To speak (up) or not to speak (up)?

Many clients have been talking with me recently about what’s at stake when we speak up, particularly in times when emotions are running strong, the stakes are high and putting your voice out there can open you up to attack or a following, via social media and it’s “forever” voice.

This is a touchy topic.

I think the stakes are always high. Certainly, there is a ton of amplification right now, with Covid-19, social justice, high unemployment and an economic roller coaster. But every time you do or do not speak up, you are making a statement about who you are. And that brands your brand as a human being or an organization.

How to know when to speak up? There are absolutely risks and consequences. Getting clear on your principles and values (doing the hard work of reflection and writing them down) will inform a lot. Are you a chameleon, saying what you think your audience of the moment wants to hear? Sooner or later, that will out. If you keep your voice vanilla, that is still a statement of sorts. If you say, “I am neutral”, that is different from being able to see both sides and is often viewed as not true, but rather withholding (fear of offending, conflict, shame, etc.).

Most of the time, when we don’t speak up, it is because of fear. What’s at risk?

1. Being part of a (our) tribe
2. Friendship
3. Livelihood (job, clients or customers)
4. Shame
5. Being attacked
6. Gaslighting (crazy making)
7. It’s there forever (social media, media, book, email). You can’t take it back.
8. While it’s what we mean at the time, it may not what be what we really mean or want.
9. Safety – emotional, financial, social or physical.
10. Harmony, or at least perceived harmony.
11. Being liked
12. Our image
13. Being viewed as a trouble-maker, or a PITA

Keeping your mouth shut may be the smart course when the risks and consequences of speaking up are too high. But what is at risk when we don’t speak up?

1. People assume we agree.
2. Others assume we are fine.
3. We’re asking for a tacit agreement to not have conflict. We lose the opportunity for healthy, respectful conflict.
4. We can get steamrolled – not speaking up once is permission for others to continue steamrolling.
5. We can lose our soul.
6. It reinforces comfort.
7. It reinforces fear.
8. Others who need our voice are left standing alone, thinking they are alone.
9. The loudest voice in the room has its way.
10. We get in the habit.
11. It emboldens bullies.
12. People don’t know who we really are and what we really think (there is value in being known).
13. Our image/brand.
14. Our integrity – being out of alignment with our principles and values.
15. Our honesty.
16. Being viewed as a namby-pamby, with no real stance. Being seen as a chameleon, which dings trust.

What could be gained by speaking up?
1. Sometimes, nothing. Or at least, seemingly so. There is value in taking a stand for your voice mattering in the world.
2. Being a force for a cause, or what we believe in. Influencing.
3. Being a leader.
4. We grow – in courage, in eloquence, and in solidarity with what we believe.
5. A following
6. More business
7. Recognition
8. Promotion
9. Letting others know they are not alone.
10. That solid feeling of being aligned and centered. Authenticity feels good.
11. Learning
12. Evolution
13. You might change your life.
14. You might change the world.
15. You might save the day.
16. You might save a soul.
17. You might save a life.
18. You might save many lives.
19. You might brighten lives, even if just for a moment. That is worth something!
20. Fame
21. Fortune
22. Your soul

Lastly, do others feel safe to speak up with you? I think that’s why so many clients have been having these conversations with me recently – coaching is a safe space. You can create that safety though body language (watch for the eye roll, the derisive laugh, the folded arms), actively listening (without interrupting), choosing your environment and expressing appreciation for the other person being willing to take the risk of being known through sharing their thoughts. That’s the start of dialogue vs. debate.

I found it enlightening to create these lists, as my longest one was for speaking up. I’m interested in your additions and comments to them. What’s most true for you?

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