Using amplification

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Uncategorized

Everyone on the drive down from Snoqualmie Pass was angry. Well, everyone except me.

My husband was angry at my daughter for a risky skiing decision. My daughter was angry at my husband for shouting at her. My son was angry at my husband for shouting at my daughter.

Fun family ski day.

I listened to the tumult. While I had been enjoying a quiet beer in the lodge, my kids raced each other down the mountain. My daughter fell and slid at speed toward a tree.

“You could have been killed,” my husband agonized.

“And you exploding and making her cry doesn’t help anything,” my son argued, loudly, from the back seat.

“I was trying to make an impression,” he countered.

And on and on. I was reminded of work meetings where there’s a lot of talking and not a lot of listening.

Eventually, I jumped into the fray: “How much of your explosion was intended as a lesson?” I asked my husband. “And how much was an emotional release of the terror you felt?”

Which was a great question, but not the topic of this week’s column because my 15-year-old son then said:

“Mama just made a very good point.”

The words glittered in the sudden pause. I felt heard. Validated. Valued. Powerful.

I turned in my seat to look my kid in the eye: “You just did something called amplification. That’s where you use your strength to amplify another person’s voice.”

“I want you to notice what you did just now and do it always with the girls and women and marginalized people in your life,” I told him.

“I am powerful and noisy in this family — and it still felt great when you said that,” I said. “Imagine how great that would feel to a quiet student in one of your classes or to a future female colleague who is talked over in a roomful of men.”

“Be that ally,” I told him.

I first learned about amplification in a 2016 Washington Post article about how President Obama’s female staffers felt ignored. These were powerful women at the top of their game and they still struggled to make their voices heard.

So they made a pact to work together:

“When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own,” according to the article.

I coach my female clients to amplify the ideas and contributions of the women around them, to band together and help each other be heard — and credited — in a noisy workplace. I coach my male clients to amplify their female colleagues’ voices, to be a reliable ally.

“Gamify it,” I tell skeptical clients. “Make one amplification per meeting. Keep a log. If you can show me five amplifications in a week, you get a prize.”

In that moment, driving down I-90 in a carful of angry family, my 15-year-old son was an ally. I’ll take him skiing as a prize.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.