One of the biggest fears of any person is speaking up. This is the case in any relationship. Husbands and wives too often don’t speak up, or they just shut up and get up and leave the conversation. This leads to discontent among the parties involved. This lack of communication can lead to cheating and/or divorce. This is no different than any other relationship, including work. The work relationship often has too many people being quiet and discontent sets in. This leads to employers getting frustrated with employees, and employees not feeling valued. This leads to performance reviews suffering, or in many cases valuable employees leaving the company. It could often be avoided if people would just communicate.
How many of you reading this sit down and regularly communicate with your significant other, how many communicate with children, how many communicate with co-workers, and how many truly communicate with their boss/employer?
I would venture to say many of you have trouble communicating with your boss/employer. You are not alone. A leading high-tech company conducted an independent survey of hundreds of employees and, even though they had grievance procedures and other processes in place to facilitate communication, about 50% of them were still afraid to speak up. They felt talking about problems were not the issue, it was speaking about their worth, their value, and creative ways the company could grow and expand. They were afraid of being told no, or worse being cut loose for asking for too much money or change or going against the norm.
To have successful communication in any relationship it requires both sides to create the right environment for success. To successfully discuss this topic, we must look at what all parties can do to make the environment more conducive to communicating. Below we focus on some topics to help everyone Speak Up.
- Remove Emotions – This is probably the most difficult part of the equation. We as humans use emotion to drive “gut” decisions, to cheer for sports teams, and to tell someone we love them. Emotions separates us from computers, and it is difficult to think and communicate without emotion. Emotions can keep you silent, but it can also be the reason you speak up. However, emotions alone do not provide for good communications. You should have facts and information to back up your communication. If you speak on emotion alone there is nothing supporting your point. People are less likely to listen, because emotion alone too often leads to rambling and complaining. While emotions may give you the “nerve” to speak up, remember to bring value to the communication and have facts backing up your communication.
- Create a Safe Zone – Create an environment where people do not feel threatened to speak up. The simplest way to do this was covered in one of our previous Communication Corner’s…Listen. Showing a willingness to listen to others will make those people feel important and gives their voice value. They feel safe in knowing they can speak about failures, and hurdles without be negatively judged or punished. We all experienced the coach who says they are available to answer questions and listen, but when they don’t hear what they want to hear they bench you or even worse your children. These coaches created a false safe zone. The safe environment requires everyone to listen, and not be quick to react. Otherwise, the environment becomes more adversarial and less open. In business you will have employees silence themselves, and often don’t speak up for the value, their creativeness, and instead just look for greener pastures. By having this safe environment will lead to faster troubleshooting and leveraging learning opportunities to prevent future mistakes.
- Don’t Fear NO – When you decide to speak up you must be willing to hear “NO”. If you are not strong enough to realize the answer you may receive is different from the one you want to hear you, then you will not speak up in the first place. You need to be understand every communication has at least two participants. Each of those participants has their own views and facts. Without being aware, you will feel blindsided and ejected for speaking up. This will cause fear going forward and may cause you to avoid communication in the future. For instance, if you go into the conversation asking for a raise from your boss, and you have all your facts prepared, and you feel safe to speak up, and you are certain there is no way they could say “NO”. You will feel rejected when they say “NO”, even if your boss explains you are doing well and the company is losing money overall. You feel blindsided and rejected and will be less likely to speak up. However, if you would go in understanding there are other factors which could lead to the opposite answer you want to hear you will be more willing to speak up again in the future.
- Reward Openness – Recognize those individuals who have had the courage to speak up. Indicate the ideas have come from specific people, so they get recognition. Again, they feel they are providing value. If your kids speak up and you quickly say that is a stupid idea, your kids will be less likely to want to bring ideas to you and their self-esteem will suffer. The same can happen within a professional setting, if you are destructive in criticism, instead of constructive, employees will not speak up. If an idea is a good one, or someone did a great job on a project, give them the recognition they deserve. A simple recognition to their peers will make them feel empowered. Otherwise, they will begin to question why they even bother to put in the effort.
- Be a Team – Create ways to work together, instead of against each other. Do things that are fun and require multiple people to be on the same team. This type of teamwork creates better communication amongst the participants and less of a you versus me mentality. Simple things you do at home like bowling on teams or playing board games in teams can help facilitate better communication skills. This team environment mentality people experience at home or in personal lives has led to team building becoming such a big part of the corporate environment these days. It encourages better communication among different personalities and people to help the business prosper as a larger team and not just employees working in silos.
The steps above are by no means the solution to every scenario. They can be applied to both personal and professional communications. By keeping these points in mind, it may just help you speak up, instead of getting up or shutting up.