I know it’s not easy to speak up especially when you fear that you will hurt someone or be on the receiving end of rejection, shame or anger. I still have days where I think, “If I speak my mind I will hurt some people or piss them off or not be taken seriously or be attacked!” Speaking up gets complicated when you factor in being compassionate and mindful as well as potentially being subjected to discrimination and bias.
At first, it makes sense when weighing the pros and cons not to speak up. Why expose yourself to all of that when you can just suck it up and deal with it?
Choosing to stay quiet, without a commitment to yourself to speak up soon, also has its cons. You can feel not only resentment but fatigue, demotivation, a lack of concentration or what feels like random (but let’s face it – it’s not) pain in your body. I know I have!
Whenever I’m tempted to stay silent this old saying comes to mind: “Resentment is like drinking a poison and then waiting for the other person to die.” I know I can choose to avoid speaking up but every moment I do so, I continue to feel unheard, angry or frustrated and experience symptoms like insomnia, exhaustion, body aches etc.
It can feel like a lose-lose situation but it doesn’t have to. Speaking up does not mean sharing your views without a plan. It requires: Clarity, Perspective, Practice and Resilience.
What I’m about to share is applicable to most workplace conflicts and can be adjusted for life conflicts. However, if you anticipate verbal abuse or violence speak to people who you trust (this may include your HR department, your union representative, your supervisor, therapist or in your personal life a friend or family member), and learn what your options are and who you can rely on for support.
There are two things that need particular focus if you anticipate conflict but want to elevate your voice: being clear of what you want and what your fears are.
Most times we have a vague sense of what we want when we speak up. For example, we may want acknowledgement or justice. Few people, however, can address your need if you are not specific of exactly what you want acknowledged, the justice you seek or whatever else you may want or need.
Be clear about what you want the outcome to be, why you want it, what the consequence is of not getting the outcome while providing the person the benefit of the doubt. Link these negative consequences back to how it impacts your organization’s aim or project objective. For example, impacts may include delays, increased costs and high turn-over of staff. Let this level of detail direct both of you to focus and consider the impact their actions have.
Here are to examples of how to apply the steps:
“Thanks for meeting with me John! I wanted to talk to you about our management meetings. Every time I speak, you interrupt me. I’d like you to wait to raise your points until I’m finished speaking.”
“You see, when you interrupt me I feel frustrated because I don’t have an opportunity to fully express my perspective, our team’s findings or our recommendations. The focus of our discussion changes and it’s incredibly hard to bring back the focus to the points I’m trying to raise.”
Share the consequence and provide the benefit of the doubt:
“I understand the significance of what you want to address and, the result of interrupting me is delaying implementation of plans to mitigate risks to our staff at border crossings. If these risks aren’t addressed and our staff is attacked or delayed we will be in breach of our duty of care and it will severely impact all aspects of the mission’s work.”
“Althea, thanks for meeting with me. I wanted to speak with you about the assignments you are giving my staff. I’d like for you to talk with me first about the tasks you wish my staff to do instead of going directly to them.”
“I have an overview of what everyone is working on and what the priorities are. When you assign them tasks it impacts our ability to meet deadlines. It also affects the well-being of my team. I don’t want them to be burnt-out.”
Share the consequence and provide the benefit of the doubt:
“You asking my team directly for support has caused some confusion on what priorities to focus on and have resulted in delays in sending data required for the conference. It’s also increased the stress level of my team. I am happy to support you with staff resources however I would like to do this in a way that does not lead to further delays or staff burn out.”
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah…no. I can just imagine the reaction I’ll receive,” then my friend, you are a normal human being having a normal reaction. Welcome to the club!
That thought is a result of good ol’ fear and fear is important. It is prompting you to be mindful. The next step is to take a closer look at your fear. Stepping away from fear and leaving it vague and hazy will overwhelm and cripple you. If you want to speak up but are afraid, name your fears (to yourself, not others, especially if you don’t trust them) and then name what you can do to prevent these fears from happening. Also take a moment to name specifically, the actions you can take if your worst fears are realized. If the very thought of this makes you feel paralyzed, take grounding deep breaths in and out. Once you can feel your physical body and your feet on the floor try again or, enlist the support of someone you trust and won’t judge you, to support you in this exercise.
Proactively naming and taming your fears by coming up with options and solutions will build your confidence.
A reasonable fear is saying what you need to say and having the other party respond in a disproportionately negative way.
If this happens it’s important to consider this: The person may be reacting to more than what you have said. It’s possible the conversation triggers a deeper struggle which is then externalized into the reaction you see. Simply put: It may not about you. It may be about them.
This is where compassion and mindfulness come in. It’s not to condone or accept this behaviour but to recognize someone going through a human moment of struggle and, that they are trying their best. Yeah, their best may suck and, remember a time when your best sucked. It happens. We’re human.
To be clear, if you anticipate violence take care of yourself by reaching out to your HR department or someone you can trust to act and keep you safe. If you don’t anticipate violence but it occurs when you are trying to share your concerns do not accept this behaviour. Take all measures to remove yourself from the situation and keep yourself safe and report the incident to your HR department or someone you can trust to act and keep you safe.
It’s important to approach difficult conversations with acceptances that you will not do so perfectly – especially the first couple of times you try. It’s important to accept that it is difficult, especially when learning to take these steps, to practice compassion and mindfulness. Let’s not forget that these conversations can also be layered with intersecting factors like bias or discrimination. It’s a lot. Initially, you will be impacted. You will make mistakes. You may say something awkwardly and it may hurt someone or you may not really, truly, clearly name what you want and then you will feel unresolved. It happens. It’s a process. It takes time to learn.
What’s important is that you choose to learn from each conversation and apply the learnings and keep practicing. If you don’t you can’t get better at elevating your voice and you will feel demotivated, helpless, frustrated as well as exhausted and in pain.
Before you try the above and as you try the above, it’s important to build up your resilience. This means taking care of yourself so you can develop clarity, have perspective and practice speaking up while giving the person the benefit of the doubt and ensuring you are safe.
You always have choices. None are easy but some can lead to you feeling more empowered and aligned with your values.
To support you in being able to elevate your voice so that it’s heard try the following:
Practicing in low-stakes situations with people who you trust and won’t judge you.
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