The risk of not speaking up

In order to advance our professional development, our thinking must be seen and heard


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When I was in high school, something happened to my voice.  I got quiet. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, but I stopped raising my hand. I become overly conscious of what I was saying and how it was perceived. I was constantly editing my voice. I would tell myself it was stupid.  Or irrelevant.  Or someone already said it.   So why add my voice? 

Why don’t we speak up?  Like I did, some clients explain that they don’t speak up because they believe that the topic has been covered, and there is no need to add input.  Others will mention fear. It may begin as “fear of being fired,” but in most cases, this is so far from the truth.  It’s fear of rocking the boat, fear of being called out, not liked, ostracized.

When relationships matter to us, we would not jeopardize them or our perceived survival, for anything.  

Then we get used to not speaking and it becomes easier to let others decide for us, talk for us.  Like children, we wait for our “parents” to tell us what to do.  We become passive and disengaged and go about our day.  

The cost?  We slowly abdicate our power.  We slowly choose not to lead.  We slowly assume someone else has the answer, or the best way to do something.  We wait for it to happen to us, instead of taking the lead to start something or solve something.  We lack the confidence to know that even if we’re not right, it doesn’t matter.  We could still attract the right people to help.

Worse, the cost affects the whole organization.  It cannot act on what it doesn’t know.  It operates partially blind if we don’t speak up.  

Holding back from speaking up or waiting to be asked to speak serves no one.

This is because our voice carries greater meaning than just the words. It carries our convictions, our passion, or lack of passion. It conveys more about who we are as people.

In order to advance our professional development, our thinking must be seen and heard.  To keep our organizations healthy and relevant, it must hear from all of its living parts, including the quietest ones.

Simply keeping our heads down and just getting the job done without speaking up can marginalize us.  Worse, it may convey that we have consented to being marginalized.

So how to develop our emotional courage to speak up?  Here are some simple things to consider trying:

1. Gently remind yourself that this is not about you.  It’s the topic. It’s your organization’s health and well-being.  That’s your end game.

2. Assume the best.  Assume that people want to hear from you. Assume that you all want the best for the organization.  

3. Put your hand up in every meeting, even if you think it’s not important.  Comment on one thing.  Ask one question.  You’re getting used to your voice.

4. Speak slowly. Give your heart and gut a chance to inform as you talk. (I am a speedy talker and found when I slowed down a little bit, I was more calm, and better understood.)

5.Let it go. You don’t need to hit a home run.  Whatever you say, it is just fine.   Speak as yourself.  You are enough. 

Trinnie Houghton is a partner and executive and organizational coach with Sojourn Partners, Bedford. She can be reached at trinnie@sojournpartners.com.

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