#114 Embrace Courage and Speak Up!

Today's Guest: Ivna Curi

Today I interview Ivna Curi. Ivna is a remarkable individual who has overcome significant struggles to find her voice and confidently speak her mind. Her journey from a shy and obedient girl to a powerful advocate for assertive communication is truly inspiring.

In our conversation, Ivna shares her transformative experiences, revealing the pivotal role courage played in her life. From her early days in Brazil, where she felt compelled to be the “nice girl” and avoid conflict, to her corporate career, where she battled anxiety and self-doubt, Ivna faced numerous challenges that hindered her from expressing herself effectively.

Everything changed when she encountered a mentor, who encouraged her to embrace courage and face difficult situations head-on. With his guidance, Ivna learned the art of assertive communication, a skill that completely transformed her interactions with others and propelled her into leadership roles.

Through her journey, Ivna discovered that courage, not confidence, was the key to speaking up and finding her voice. She emphasizes that focusing on courage allows us to act despite our fears and uncertainties, leading to real growth and effective communication.

Today, Ivna is on a mission to help others develop assertive communication skills and find their voices. As a respected thought leader, speaker, and coach, she provides workshops and talks that inspire professionals to confidently express themselves in various settings. Her dedication to promoting respectful speaking-up cultures in organizations helps build more inclusive and innovative workplaces.


Ivna Curi helps people confidently speak their minds unapologetically at work in a way that is heard, understood, and taken seriously with assertive communication skills, without coming across as aggressive. She provides workshops, coaching, and talks. She also helps companies create a respectful speaking-up culture that drives engagement, productivity, DEI, and innovation. She is the host of the “Speak Your Mind Unapologetically” podcast show, a TEDx speaker, has more than 20 thousand students, has an international MBA from INSEAD, is a Forbes contributor, and is a former corporate leader.

Watch the episode:

Connect with Ivna Curi

Transcript of Interview

Transcript of Interview

Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast

Podcast Host Dr. Doreen Downing

Free Guide to Fearless Speaking Doreen7steps.com

Episode #114 Ivna Curi

“Embrace Courage and Speak Up!”

(0:35) Doreen Downing:
Hello, this is Dr. Doreen Downing and I am the host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast. I invite guests who tell stories about what it might have been like to not have a voice, and we never really know until they show up and they tell us their stories. Partly why this podcast that I offer is so intriguing and why we have so many listeners, is because you never know what you’re going to hear, and you never know what you’re going to learn.

So today I’d like to introduce you to my new friend Ivna Curi. Hi Ivna.

(01:14) Ivna Curi:
Hello Doreen. I am happy to be here and I am excited to be part of your podcast because I think it’s such a wonderful theme and the way you do it is phenomenal with all these stories, which is the way to go.

(01:29) Doreen Downing:
I have a bio and I’d like to read that because you’ve done quite a bit and I want people to know right away before we actually dive down into your history, I’d like to have them understand what you are currently doing.

So you start out by saying everyone deserves to be heard and respected, and that’s why Inva Curry helps people confidently speak their minds unapologetically at work and in a way that is heard, understood, and taken seriously with assertive communication skills. And without coming across as aggressive.

She provides workshops, coaching, and talks, and she also helps companies create a respectful speaking-up culture that drives engagement, productivity. DEI  Innovation, and she is the host of the Speak Your Mind Unapologetically podcast show. A TEDx speaker has more than 20,000 students, has an international MBA from EA, and is a Forbes contributor and a former corporate leader.

That’s a big breath full, but that’s a big life already you’ve led. 

(02:54) Ivna Curi:
Thank you. Yes, a lot of it happened after I was able to find my voice, I would say the majority.

(03:01) Doreen Downing:
So yes. That’s the whole point of this podcast. And I like to start out with a bio so the people say, wow. And then we dive into a story where people begin to hear.

How did she ever do that from that kind of history? How did she become somebody who’s an a TEDx speaker when she had a history like, like you’re about to tell us? The first part of the program usually does go back into her early history and that was funny. I almost said her story, which is true too, so sweetheart, tell us your story about not having had a voice as a youngster. Maybe start, where were you born, by the way?

(03:45) Ivna Curi:
I was born in Brazil and I would say probably didn’t have a voice for three decades. Yes. And a lot of it came from the fact that, and I think a lot of us relate to this, especially as girls and women, we grow up wanting to be nice. The nice person, and some guys as well experience this. There’s this association of, hey, if as a child, if I’m nice, if I’m obedient, if I’m a good listener, if I’m quiet, if I’m pleasant, All the time. If I don’t challenge people, I don’t speak up. I just stay quiet and do as I’m told.

My teachers loved me. I was the favorite. I was used to it, I was talked about as a role model of what a student should be, of what a child should be. The quiet, obedient girl. That’s super nice. And when other adults saw me. They were like, oh your daughter’s so nice. Oh, she’s so nice and so nice.

I identified as a nice girl and that went on and on until the age of about 25. When I discovered that it wasn’t that nice to be nice, I got fed up with that word and I said, that’s not an identity. What is my identity? What do I want people to call me? But it took a very long time. And on top of that, I struggled because I was shy.

I was so socially anxious. I’d walk around the street with my head down. I’d hit objects all the time because I was avoiding eye contact that happened at school in university. I would avoid looking at people because of that. I was bullied, of course, I had a stutter problem for, most of my, I think until age, of probably 12 or 13 or something like that.

And I didn’t feel like I could even knew how to speak. Like I couldn’t find words. I wasn’t articulate at all. I just couldn’t find the right words. And here’s what happened for a very long time until my thirties, people would, even when I tried to talk, people would yawn and they’d get within 10, 20 seconds they’d get distracted and they’d go off and try to find something else.

Look at their phone, they’d turn away, they’d yawn. And I felt like nobody wants to hear what I have to say even when I tried speaking up. 

(06:12) Doreen Downing:
This is amazing already. Already, my goodness, the history of boxing yourself already into the good girl, and I certainly know what that’s like. 

Actually going to school was a place where I got acknowledged by the teachers. I performed well at school so I certainly relate to that part of your story and being able to shine in a certain environment, but also hiding. My goodness. 

Running into lampposts and walls because you’re trying to hide as you are living in your life. My goodness. 

(07:03) Ivna Curi:
I’m embarrassed of my existence. I, in a way, I thought I was a smart girl. That was my, also part of my identity. Oh, I’m intelligent. I do math, I do physics.

I’m a smart girl. But at the same time, I felt useless. I felt like an imposter, like many do, like what I had to say was not valuable. What I had to say was not worthy of people’s time, and therefore I should stay quiet and only listen. I should only listen and ask questions. 

(07:36) Doreen Downing:
And the reason why I’m so animated right now is because that’s why I went into psychology is because I became a really good listener. And I understand that somebody who values yourself, because of the listener. And here we are today, helping people be more expressed, both of us.

I think that’s fabulous. Yes. It’s interesting. Yes. But I can also understand from your point of view, the way you describe people not paying attention to you, the way that they would get distracted or look away that you, the feedback you were getting was something where you didn’t feel valued or heard.

(08:17) Ivna Curi:
And it was complicated because ultimately at some point, right towards the end of my twenties, I had such incredible life experiences. I had traveled the world, I had done this magnificent trip to France, in Singapore. I had met all sorts of people, had worked in three industries. Yet when I came to talk about myself, people would still yawn and then they’d talk about their burgers.

Yes. And I’m, I thought, what’s wrong? What’s wrong? It’s clear. At some point, I realized it’s not that I’m uninteresting. There’s something else going on. And some of the other issues that you talked about in terms of the struggle was, one of the things was that I felt like I didn’t, I was very non-confrontational.

I didn’t like, I don’t like conflict. I just don’t like when people look upset. I don’t like disappointing people at all. And I’ll ruminate over it if I feel like I’m hurting someone or I’m disappointing them. I’ll spend all night thinking about it. So obviously that doesn’t contribute as well because I don’t want to create any scenario where I say something where I hurt someone’s feelings or they think highly of me and I disappoint them.

So all the, because I spoke and said something stupid. And it’s just constantly in my head, it was in my head all the time, like overthinking every single word. Before I spoke in a meeting, I’d probably rehearse in my head around 10 times and then still not communicate in the meeting still.

(09:47) Doreen Downing:
Rehearsing 10 times. They’re already on to the next topic. 

(09:53) Ivna Curi:
It was a fight, every meeting was a battlefield, was incredibly unpleasant. Oh. And that went on from like personal life to work life to leadership life. It just, it was a nightmare not being able to communicate or speak up or voice or express myself.

(10:12) Doreen Downing:
Something happened because that’s not who you are now. 

(10:18) Ivna Curi:
This took a long time to get to, but. It definitely did change. And I had a lot of also just fears of being perceived as difficult, aggressive because people already knew me as a quiet, obedient girl.

But eventually, things had to change. And I shared with you last time we talked that what really triggered me to change was this one job. Where, and I talk about this man all the time because he changed my life. His name was Mario Setti, and he was my boss in this new job.

He hired me and he was the most assertive person I think I’ve ever met in my life. Not only that, he held me accountable to be assertive. I didn’t know what that was at the time. He made me speak up all the time. So it was my, the first job where I had to lead a team. I was in meetings all day with clients, with suppliers, with stakeholders.

It was a medium-sized company and I was managing their supply chain doing supply chain management for them. And I had to deal with a lot of people who are a lot older than me and who had a strong personality, who were able to speak up, and many of whom did not want to speak to me.

Plus my team members who were really frustrated with everything that was going wrong in the company and also didn’t want to do what I told them to do and were unhappy. So the whole thing was really chaotic, and as much as I wanted to run away from it and stay quiet, my boss forced me to actually speak up in every single situation, every day.

It was crazy tense, 

(11:59) Doreen Downing:
When you say forced, there’s a good kind of forcing or pushing. Good. Okay. That, that I was hoping it was that and not, with a stick behind you.

(12:11) Ivna Curi:
Let me give an example. Okay. Very tense situation. Had a really difficult team member and my boss would ask me to do things, my team member wouldn’t do anything.

I wasn’t able to get the team member to do anything. And so my boss said, Hey, what’s going on? What do you need to do? Okay if this person does not do this work, what are you going to do? So he would make me ask questions and make me say things like, Hey I need to give this person a chance.

And if they don’t, Do what I’m asking them to do. They don’t comply with what needs to be done and are a team player, then I’m going to have to let them go. But he would make me make that decision, which I was avoiding because it was a very uncomfortable conversation. And then he said you need to communicate that to the person.

You need to tell them what your expectations are, and you need to communicate the consequences if they don’t fulfill your expectations. And I didn’t want to have that conversation.

(13:10) Doreen Downing:
That’s the conflict-avoidant part of you that you just talked about.

(13:17) Ivna Curi:
It was like the hardest thing. So what would my boss do?

He’s are you willing to have the conversation? I said, yes. So I’d go down, he called me one hour later. Did you have the conversation? No. Even though you have to have the conversation. What are you waiting for? Have the conversation. An hour later he, I didn’t have the con, he called, I didn’t have the conversation because it’s too scary.

He would call me again even, did you have the conversation? No. Why didn’t you have the conversation? What’s going on? You need to just have the conversation. It’s important for you have the conversation. And he just do that until I had the conversation. And that happened in all sorts of different scenarios with suppliers, with coworkers, with my team, with all sorts of people.

That’s fascinating. It was transformational. 

(14:00) Doreen Downing:
I guess I’m really glad it wasn’t a stick that was poking you. It felt like a, just a gentle kind of holding you because I love that first question he asked, are you willing? That to me feels if you find your willingness, it may take a little while, like you’re demonstrating to us, but it feels if you start from willing, then you can help yourself move forward into a difficult situation like you’re talking about.

(14:30) Ivna Curi:
No, I never felt he’s my hero. I never felt like he was obliging me to do anything. Making me aware of what the right thing was to do, not telling me what to do, just saying, Hey, what do you think is the right thing to do here? Yes, it would come out of my mouth and then he would held me accountable for what I said.

Yes. That was a difference Uhhuh, because he was a man who was very outspoken and assertive and kind. And generous, but also very firm. And the reality is he saw in me the daughter that he wanted to have. Oh, he was fathering me. I was very lucky. Yes. So that was his gentle fathering kind of way of building me up to be a leader in that organization.

And that’s exactly what I needed. I didn’t need empathy. I needed someone to push me. And that was the year that transformed my life. And I think that when we find people, cause I had, I had I think 14 bosses. The bosses, my best bosses were those that were assertive, and that held me accountable to have the hard conversations, to speak up, to share my thoughts in meetings, he’d do that as well.

I, after a meeting, an important meeting that he was in, and I was in, he’d call me to his office and say, Hey, what do you think? What’s your advice to me? What do you think I should do? What do you think we should do? Hey, what’s your opinion on this? Even if I was the most junior person in the room.

So there are many facets to it.

(15:58) Doreen Downing:
Who’s ever listening today? I hope that you’re really hearing not only how to be somebody who steps into a situation that’s scary for you, but also how to support and lead others if you happen to be in situations where you are helping others perform. 

We’re going to take a quick break because I want to get back to you and hear way more stories about not only your struggle but your transformation.

Thank you.

(16:46) Doreen Downing:
Hi, we’re back with Ivna Curi and already we’re learning so much about coming from a shy little one who is just eager to please and yet pleasing didn’t get her that far. And we’ve also been hearing about a mentor. I was going to say a mentor who meant so much to you because he was somebody who actually listened the best out of you, and he didn’t go tell you what to do.

He actually asked you what you thought would be the best thing, and then helped you take those steps towards the best thing. And it usually had to do with speaking up just like what? Yes, just what we’re talking about today. So yes, say more. Whatever seems to be coming to you at this point. 

(17:40) Ivna Curi:
So that was a phase and then obviously later I, I learned what assertiveness is and I started to formally study assertiveness communication and that’s when I had another major jump in my ability to speak up because assertiveness is about, and I talk a lot about it because I’m such a fan.

If I look back and I think, okay, what was the number one skill I wish I had learned? Earlier that would’ve made the biggest difference in my life, personal and professional. The answer I came up with was a sort of communication because it is the ability to speak up and express ourselves in a way that is respectful, which I’m all about.

I love the value of respect, calm, which I naturally am, and effective, and that’s what was missing. That’s why people were yawning at me. That’s why people were ignoring me. That’s why people weren’t understanding what I had to say because I wasn’t effective. I wasn’t able to influence through my words. So when I learned more about how to be effective and influential with the way I communicated and spoke up. Then I started to get results and that really motivated me to speak up more. And then more recently, another thing that I’ve been really focusing on in my entrepreneurial kind of thought leadership, trying to find my own voice here on podcasts.

Speaking up, Ted Talk in front of audiences. It’s just, it has been very hard for me as well because that’s a whole different dimension. But this idea towards, and even at work as well, I embrace imperfect. I embrace speed of implementation. I embrace a bias towards action. I embrace not doing my best.

If I’m doing my best. It’s not good.

(19:21) Doreen Downing:
That’s several things you just said that just turns what we think upside down. Doing your best is not really what the goal is.

(19:29) Ivna Curi:
No, I never do my best ever. And if I do my best, it means I’m spending too much time on it. Oh, Uhhuh, there’s an opportunity cost there.

So I’d rather do more things, do things quickly. Because speed, I realize there are studies that show that speed is more important than quality or perfection. Like you want some quality, but you don’t want perfection because there’s actually studies that show that if you do a lot speed, you’ll get more quality because you’re learning as you’re doing. But if you just think to do the perfect thing, it’s never, it’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be even close to perfect. And the interaction, the speaking up and getting feedback from other people, I learned that is where the value is.

That’s where the quality comes through. That’s where the effectiveness is. And so it really helped me and I, one of the things that I started to do, especially as I transitioned, I was scared of like posting something on LinkedIn, telling people what I was doing, recording my podcast, being live on video.

The first time I did in college, a little presentation for my class, I cried. Five minutes, I cried because it was, and I couldn’t sleep that night. Five minutes? 

(20:45) Doreen Downing:
From already what we’re learning today, you weren’t, you hadn’t learned all of what you’ve been learning in college.

You were just still pretty undeveloped. 

(21:00) Ivna Curi:
Completely. Pushing courage moments, I do not think about confidence. I ignore my confidence. When it comes to speaking up, I really don’t care about it.

(21:08) Doreen Downing:
Say more. This is so fascinating. You’re saying all the things that you know, people are, they want to be effective, they want to be the most they can be.

They want to be confident. So say more about the confidence.

(21:23) Ivna Curi:
I could care less about my confidence. I care about my courage. Oh, I reward my courage. Cause I know with courage I’ll speak up and then the confidence will follow. The first time for anything that I have to speak is scary.

It’s so scary. Yet what I need to focus is on. Good job. Now, you had the courage, you went there even though you felt like an imposter, like you didn’t know what you were saying, that nothing you said was valuable, that no one was going to listen to you, and that it was a complete disaster. You did it.

Courage. And then after I feel good. I feel a sense of confidence take over. So for me, it’s always courage first, confidence follows, but in order to act, I don’t feel confident. And that’s okay. 

(22:12) Doreen Downing:
That’s okay. This is truly transformational what you’re telling us today, and I hope people are really taking in this fact that it’s courage that we’re trying to, what fill ourselves up with so that then we could take steps.

Not that we have got to get the confidence first. It’s first get the courage. Thank you. I love that that new point of view that’s I think is going to reach so many people today. Say more about, we’re transitioning a little bit more now in, into, we’re already getting a lot of your jewels and gems and nuggets of wisdom, but tell us a little bit more about transforming into who you are today and more about what you do offer today.

(23:02) Ivna Curi:
Oh my gosh. First of all, so liberating. That anxiety of interacting with people went away. When you show up with peace at ease and interactions, no matter if it’s hard., I had an issue with really senior authority people. And I would overthink, I would feel like a little miniature little ant that they could step on.

And so that dissolved and now I’m able to interact almost as an equal in conversation with people that are technically way superior. And that’s so liberating. You’re not having to worry so much, be so anxious about things.

(23:43) Doreen Downing:
What would you say was the turning point there?

Like that sounds like a real important learning. I’m sure there’s a long story, but let me just say it this way. If you can give a tip to somebody today on what you just said about how to feel comfortable in front of authority figures, what would you say? 

(24:05) Ivna Curi:
For me, my dad was a big authority and I think that’s where it came from, that whole fear of authority.

He’s a good guy. Just, yes, more authoritarian. So I think for me, what happened was I started to really analyze, like really observe very closely these authority figures and I started to notice everything that was wrong with him. And when I started to notice these poor souls, yes, they were doing great at work.

They had the great titles, but oh boy, their families were a mess. They had issues with their health. Like they had all these other aspects of their life that were falling apart and it humanized them and I felt, you know what? I’m doing better in certain areas, so we’re not that different.

Yes, you’re sure you’re better in a few things, but I’m better in other areas. It’s okay. Let’s talk.

(24:52) Doreen Downing:
Oh, I like it. I like it. What you’re talking about is reducing them as giants and bringing them down to the human level. And you’re human and there’s no, no upper or lower. It just is. And thank you.

I thought that was a really good message for us.

(25:11) Ivna Curi:
It took a while when I got there.

(25:12) Doreen Downing:
Yes. I’m hearing a lot of what you’ve been telling us today is that it’s taken a while. Tell us a little bit now before we have to close what you do, what you offer, who you work with.

(25:26) Ivna Curi:
Thank you for that. I help professionals develop communication skills, these same skills that I had to learn the hard way. And I also taught my teams, and I teach others and I bring it to organizations. I bring it especially to women diverse groups, minorities because it’s even harder that the fear and the risk of retaliation and backlash and being perceived as aggressive and difficult are higher.

And in order to overcome that and be able to speak up, there are skills that, that enable us to do that, like I said, in an effective, respectful way. So I bring that to companies and help the professionals and the leaders develop those skills and all sorts of different situations. I actually welcome anyone who wants to get started learning a little bit more about how to speak up assertively and respectfully.

Check out my website. I have tons of free resources there as well at assertiveway.com. 

(26:22) Doreen Downing:
I like the idea of assertively, but you put in a nice word that I think is really important for us in terms of being able to connect with other people is approaching conversations with respect. 

(26:39) Ivna Curi:
My favorite value of all times.

(26:41) Doreen Downing:
I’m getting that. I’ve heard it several times today, and I want, that’s why I wanted to emphasize it because I think that’s what I want listeners to actually embrace is being respectful is a way to connect with others, 

(26:58) Ivna Curi:
Respectful to others, and respectful to ourselves and to our voice.

(27:03) Doreen Downing:
Yes. I feel like already I have a deep respect for you and I can’t wait to be on your podcast. Yes. And that’s coming up. It’s Speak Your Mind Unapologetically. Yes. That’s another reason we’ll get to continue our conversation. The one last word you might say or idea that you would want to share with us before we close.

(27:32) Ivna Curi:
I want to share that a hundred percent of my breakthroughs in my life, in my career, came from speaking up from those courageous moments. So if you feel like there’s not enough exciting opportunities coming your way, start speaking up. Listen more to this podcast, find your courage. Take Monday mornings or early mornings are a great time to fuel that courage and act on it and surround yourself with people who speak their minds in a very respectful way.

And I think you’ll find your voice again and have the courage to speak it out and share with the world. 

(28:17) Doreen Downing:
Oh yes. Thank you so much.

Ivna Curi:
Thank you, Doreen.

Also listen on…

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.