A Squeaky Wheel Or A Beautiful Noise: 3 Signs That It Is Time To Speak Your Mind
“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” – Lao Tzu
Do you remember when you were growing up ever hearing the words “you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
You probably have more than a passing recollection of similar anecdotes regarding the power of silence. For me, Mark Twain’s words “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt” immediately comes to mind.
Given the suggestion that silence is somewhat of a virtue, and is reflective of a thoughtful and considerate mind, it is no wonder that you, like most people, have been conditioned to remain silent.
Do not get me wrong, there is a place for silence – and I will touch on that in a moment.
However, silence is not always golden. In fact remaining silent can actually hurt you and those with whom you work.
It is therefore not a question of verbal abstinence, but instead of knowing not only when you should speak, but how you should speak.
A Time For Silence?
In Bill Murphy Jr.’s June 5th, 2014 Mashable post “10 Times When Staying Quiet At Work Is Your Best Option,” he talks about how great leaders know when to stay silent.
Amongst the examples given, is remaining quiet (and listening) after you have asked a question. This makes sense anywhere, and not just at work.
He also writes about not speaking when you do not have all the facts or, do not actually know what you are talking about. Also good advice, that seems obvious.
There are of course other scenarios for remaining silent. What stands out is that regardless of the reason, the basis for not speaking comes down to a simple matter of common sense.
In other words, you probably have no problems in terms of knowing when to keep a lid on it. The real challenge is in knowing when you should actually step up to the mic and let yourself be heard.
“A time to keep silence, And a time to speak.” – Eccl. 3:7b
In this month’s eNewsletter, I will provide you with 3 essential tips on not only knowing when to speak up, but also on how you can deliver the message you want while ensuring that your words will be received in the spirit in which they are being offered.
1. When You Aren’t Sure That People Really Know Who Are You?
“Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?) – The Who Lyrics
Your voice defines the value that you bring to your organization and to those with whom you work.
Think about the above statement for just a moment, and then ask yourself, have you ever thought I will let my work do my talking? Surely if I do a good job, people will notice me?
If you answered yes, you are not alone. For many people – especially those who are shy or a little reserved, it is far easier to bear down and focus on the tasks associated with your job. The thought of having to raise your hand and your voice to say hello everyone,my name is John or Becky and this is what I do, and how can I make a difference in your life? is a daunting proposition.
The trouble is that if you fail to speak up, rarely if ever will someone actually notice you. In fact they may even form an inaccurate picture of who you really are.
So how do you know when you are the office’s quiet enigma – and every office has at least one?
Do you feel like an outsider? Does your boss rarely if ever assign you tasks beyond the confines of your job description? Do others ever seek your opinion – and on those rare occasions that they have, were you able to offer anything meaningful in the way of new insights? Outside of obligatory staff functions, do any of your co-workers ask you to join them for a cup of coffee or to grab a bite at lunch?
Remember to know you is to like you.
If your answer is yes in any of the above referenced scenarios, then no one knows you and it is time to speak up.
Steps to become (better) known . . .
- The next time people are having a coffee in the lunchroom or shooting the breeze around the old water cooler, casually introduce yourself into the conversation by at first listening and then getting involved in the discussion. Trust me, you will know what to say when the time comes. Of course use tact in that you want to make certain that you are not interrupting a private or sensitive conversation.
- During a meeting or a brainstorming session go in prepared. When I say prepared I am not talking about writing a script, but instead know the topic or subject being discussed, and jot down a few key points relative to what you think is important regarding the area being covered. Keeping in mind that there is no right or wrong position, sharing your thoughts will give people an idea as to who you are and what you value.
- Given the choice between telling or asking, always go with asking questions. Asking shifts the focus from you to the other person or persons. This takes pressure off of you, while also giving you the opportunity to learn about others. This information can then help you to progressively build a stronger rapport with people to the point that they will want to get to know you.
2. When You Are Being Asked To Compromise Your Values
“If your brand value truly reflects your personal values that align with who you really are, you will have created a magical harmony from within. This in turn will present a unified and sustaining image that will neither disappoint nor surprise, but instead endure.“
The above is an excerpt from my book The Future of You: Creating Your Enduring Brand.
While there are many words to consider, and upon which to ponder, it is the last word in the statement that should resonate the most . . . the word endure.
Why did I choose to end the thought with that word?
Quite simply, when you are facing a trial of conscience, in which your very job may be on the line, your definition of endurance might be to compromise so that you can perhaps live to fight another day. Unfortunately, you will lose far more when you go against yourself and your values and beliefs. You lose your own sense of identity and who you really are.
From that moment on, keeping your job is who you are and what you are about. Instead of security, you will begin to experience an ever increasing level of insecurity, as you will look to outside sources rather than looking within yourself, to determine what you will do or say. In essence, someone else is at the controls of your life.
There is however a way out . . . a way to avoid turning over control to someone else’s agenda.
- Know for what you stand, and always stand firm when doing so means that you will be true to yourself. Don’t be afraid to say so in a firm but polite manner.
- Accept the fact that staying true to your values may come with a cost. Say to the other individual in a non-judgmental tone, “look I understand why you are asking me to do this, but I just can’t as I do not believe that it is the right path to take. If this means that you have to let me go or that I lose you as a client, then so be it. But I hope that you see this has an act of conscience as opposed to convenience.”
- Regardless of how it turns out, never criticize the other person publicly. If they accept your position, do not brag or assume an “I won” demeanor. Conversely, if you end up losing your job because you took a stand, when asked, tell people in a calm manner, “I could not do what was being asked of me, and that is a personal decision with which I am prepared to live.”
3. When The Game Is On The Line
I remember reading on so many occasions the bedtime story to my son about the Emperor who had no clothes on.
The premise was quite simple.
Having been presented with imaginary fabric by two swindlers telling him that only a fool could not see it’s beautiful colors, the Emperor – not wanting to look the fool – said yes he could see it even though he couldn’t. He then ordered that clothing be made from this beautiful, non-existent fabric.
Of course everyone else who was in the Emperor’s court that day were also afraid to admit that they could not see any fabric – especially since the Emperor said that he had.
In the end, the entire court left the castle in a great precession so that that Emperor could show all the land his most magnificent clothing – clothing which was never there. No one stopped him. No one said a word. Even the throngs of people lining the streets cheered, complimenting the Emperor on his new clothes. No one wanted to look the fool.
But then a little girl stepped out from the crowd and yelled . . . “but the Emperor has no clothes on!”
At that moment, everyone – including the Emperor himself had to acknowledge that he had been taken, and that indeed he had no clothes on.
If only others had the courage of that one little girl to state what everyone already knew but were so afraid to say. Think of the embarrassment that could have been avoided, and the feelings of shame for having been so vain and foolish.
The moral of the story is very clear . . . don’t worry about being right, focus on getting it right.
- When you see that something is clearly amiss, don’t let your team go out into the world without their clothes on. With a sincere desire to get it right, step forward and say “I don’t believe that this is a good idea and here is why.”
- Don’t make other’s feel bad because they didn’t catch it or didn’t themselves come forward. Be gracious in your manner and your words.
- When a misstep is averted or success is attained don’t boast or make it about you. Instead view it as a victory for everyone.
Speak Now Or Forever . . .
Are the above scenarios the only times that you should ever consider speaking-up?
I would have to say no, as I am sure that you might think of a couple of instances when you would have a word or two to say.
That said, the one defining rule of thumb you should always follow without fail is simply this . . . if looking back at a moment in time where you should have spoken but didn’t, will you regret it?
You are the only one who can answer that question and, you are the only one who can determine what that answer will ultimately mean to you.
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“When opportunity knocks, will you be ready to answer?”
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