Thoughts From Our Heads

Thoughts From Our Heads


Being Brave in the Workplace: To Speak or not to Speak?

Wednesday 10th April 2019

If something is happening at work that you don’t agree with do you speak out? Or do you think it is better to keep quiet? No one ever got sacked for staying quiet right?


This is a dilemma that faces many employees on a daily basis. The boss is making a bad decision. Your think your colleague is fudging expenses and pocketing the money. There is a problem in the new product release. A dominant employee is bullying colleagues to get their way. In these situations what do you do? Speak up and risk being wrong and alienated or keep quiet and risk the consequences of the action. 


Not speaking up can cost. Research by VitalSmarts shows that not speaking up about problems in product, process or strategy can cost a company $25,000 or more in lost productivity costs.


It is easy to see why we might choose to stay silent. Fear over retaliation, not having the support of your colleagues, losing your job or gaining a bad reputation are all valid reasons that might cause you to stay quiet.


But staying quiet doesn’t help you or the company. Bad decisions lead to financial losses, poor quality leads to damaged customer reputation and you not speaking out makes you accountable. By speaking up, in the right way, you stand yourself apart from the pack and make a positive impact in the organisation.


Critical to speaking out is that it is delivered in the right way. When dealing with sensitive topics a wrong word, or mis perceived tone can cause the conversation to go in the wrong direction very quickly.


Follow these techniques for ensuring success when speaking out:


  • Have good intentions – before speaking out it is important to know your own intentions. If your intention is to embarrass or prove someone wrong this will be expressed when you communicate, and your message will not be well received. If you have a positive intention such as improving the department or avoiding a catastrophe then you should speak up. If your intention is more selfish, consider whether speaking up will be well received.
  • Be humble – this means that you drop your ego and don’t make this about being right or wrong. Conversations can easily defend into two people trying to ‘win’ the conversation if you are not on the lookout for this behaviour. So, start with humility. Admit that you might be wrong, (you could be) and openly invite contrasting opinions. 
  • Don’t react – The other person may respond in an overly emotional or aggressive way. It is critical that you don’t react to these outbursts. Remember if you get a reaction like this it is because you have pushed a button and the other person feels unsafe in some way. Try to empathise with them and help them to see that you are on their side and want to work with them.
  • Focus on shared goals – Another way to help neutralise a negative reaction and prevent egos getting in the way is to focus the conversation on shared goals. Always keep this in mind as this is always the end goal of your conversation. Remind the person of what you are working towards and the things you have in common.
  • Ask a reasonable question – to move people to actions or get them to reconsider something you can ask them a reasonable question that they would find it hard to say no to. For example, can we get finance to take a look over the numbers before we make a decision on this? Do you think we should get the thoughts of marketing before we roll out? You can phrase this as a question or a suggestion. 
  • Differentiate between facts and opinions – In these conversations it is critical that you are clear about when you are stating facts and when you are stating opinions. Some aggressive communicators will state opinions as though they are facts to manipulate and persuade others. You should not do this. Preface comments with statements like, ‘the data tells us’, or ‘the quarterly report shows’, ‘I observed’ and then for opinions say, ‘this is only my opinion’, ‘my interpretation from this is’. This will prevent arguments occurring because you are being clear about what is fact and what you think about those facts.
  • Find areas of agreement – When you are openly disagreeing with someone it helps to reinforce things that you can agree on. Say what you think they have said or done that is great and areas where you have consensus. This will help to reinforce the message that you are on their side. 
  • Pick the right time – timing is important. Consider the where and when. Don’t leave your communication so late that it is difficult to take action. Usually the earlier you can raise something the better. Also consider the environment. Someone with a big ego might not appreciate you calling them out in front of the group, so better to do it in a private space.