How many times have you said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no”? What about the times you’ve compliantly accepted a “no” from somebody when everything inside you screamed, “Speak up and get a yes?” How about the times you’ve wanted to shout, “This is what I want,” but stifled it and kept quiet?
I know I have on more occasions that I’d like to admit. I bet you have too. We can all cite examples where we look back, slap ourselves on the forehead, and exclaim, “Why in the world didn’t I….”The art of communication is not mastered by just knowing what to say and how to say it.
A big factor is knowing when to say it. So often people sit back and say nothing when something really needs to be said. It could be an idea, a suggestion, an observation, a criticism…but for some reason they don’t want to speak up.
You may not be alone in your thinking. It’s entirely possible that your insightful observations and conclusions have surfaced in the minds of others. Others may share your thoughts and opinions but may be also unwilling to speak up. By speaking your mind, you encourage them to voice their opinions as well. If everyone holds back, the bus may silently head over a cliff. In my opinion I believe so strongly that everything should be voiced.
The greater good should be the priority. I like to believe most people are good hearted by nature. And many stay silent because they don’t want to do any harm by offending or criticizing someone. But when a person or the team is headed down a dangerous path, it’s selfish to put your own needs to be comfortable above the needs of the others. Worse, by staying silent, you may be harming the very people you hope to help. The worst-case scenario if you speak up is that someone may disagree, but at least the issue is at the forefront and an active decision can be made. The best-case scenario is that everyone benefits and you are hailed as a powerful leader.
During the coaching sessions with my clients, they often complain to me about interactions they had with a partner, friend, parents or co-worker. When I asked the question, “Why didn’t you speak up for yourself?” here are the most common answers I receive:
- “I want to keep the peace.”
- “I don’t want to rock the boat.”
- “I didn’t know what to say.”
- “It won’t change anything.”
- “He/she won’t listen.”
- “We will just end up fighting.”
- “He/she will make it my fault.”
The good news is, with some simple steps and practice, you can get much more comfortable with the idea of speaking up for yourself. Here are the basic steps you should take to become more confident to speak up for yourself.
In order to feel comfortable speaking up and to get what we want, we need ways to expand our range of power.
In our work, my colleagues and I have found two things that really matter:
1) You feel powerful in your own eyes;
2) You feel powerful in the eyes of others. When you feel powerful, you feel confident and not fearful, and you can expand your own range. When other people see you as powerful, they grant you a wider range. So, we should find and use tools that help expand our range of acceptable behavior.
Another time we feel more confident speaking up is when we have expertise.
Expertise gives us credibility. When we have high power, we already have credibility — we only need good evidence. But when we lack power, we don’t have credibility — and we need excellent evidence. We can come across as an expert by tapping into a passion. When we tap into our passion, we give ourselves the courage in our own eyes to speak up, and we get permission from others to speak up
Consider your culture.
If you are from a country or region other than the one in which you’re now working from, you may find yourself in a situation where the rules of social behavior with which you were raised were different from those around you now. Perhaps you’ve been taught that disagreeing with the boss is wrong, or that asking for further clarification is a sign of weakness.
You might have been raised to defer to elders, or that saying “no” is to be avoided. Perhaps the part of the country you lived in prized a laid-back approach and getting too excited seems gauche to you. Take note of how your culture has influenced your behavior and be mindful of how it affects your tendency to speak up.
Consider your upbringing.
Think back to your family dynamic. Was your family communicative and supportive? Strict and formal? Was everyone expected to defer to one parent? Was questioning authority allowed? Were new ideas met with enthusiasm and animated discussion, or ridicule, teasing or name-calling? What happened when you were wrong, or tried something that didn’t work? Think on how discussion was handled in your home and note how that has shaped your willingness and desire to share ideas.
Consider your gender.
Specifically, consider how your gender affects your tendencies in the culture and climate where you work. If you’re the minority in the room, do you put less value on your opinion? Are you worried that others do? Are you worried about seeming “too loud,” “too brash,” or rude? Many women report worrying that they will be seen as “bitchy” or unfeminine if they disagree or speak too often — or weak if they aren’t as “tough” as men. They see male counterparts assert ill-formed ideas confidently but still hesitate to enter the discussion.
Once you start viewing yourself as a victim, then you will always start viewing yourself that way. When you do this, you are creating yourself to not only be the victim but your own worst enemy, too. It’s just not healthy. According to a Psychology Today article, Judith Orloff, M.D. an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA said, “Whether you’re confronting a drainer or transforming your own negativity, being empathic is vital. Elevating you to the realm of the heart, empathy allows you to non-defensively understand, even have mercy on antagonizers.” While it’s good to have empathy for others, it’s best to also have empathy for yourself.