If you had the opportunity to speak up with the guarantee of no negative consequences, what might you say and who would you say it to? 

Research indiciates that 56% of us bottle-up workplace grievances for more than a year without speaking up. It is amazing the pain and frustration many of us are willing to endure to avoid voicing our concerns; whether it’s agonising over the issue, working around the problem or talking about it with everyone except the person involved.

Think about that conversation you’d love to have but choose to avoid. Why do you choose NOT to have that conversation? Perhaps you’re worried about creating conflict or damaging the relationship and you don’t know how to frame the conversation. Then, time goes by and you say nothing.

We bottle it up because we concentrate on the potential perils of speaking up and decide to stay silent.  However, we fail to consider the cost of silence; which is often much worse. How has not holding the conversation impacted you and your relationship with that person? How much time, effort and performance has been lost as a result of your silence?

Those who suffer in silence often believe they are making the problem go away, but in reality the elephant in the room grows bigger. The bigger the elephant gets, the more damage it does. For example, if someone resents their manager, their productivity is likely to decrease because they feel their efforts are unappreciated or they leave the organisation.

If you find yourself going over your problems in your head, avoiding someone and working around them or talking about them to someone else, you need to speak up.

So how can we address the elephant in the room by being both honest and respectful?

  1. Assume people can change - You need to give the person a chance to change. If you knew someone had a concern to share with you, you’d most likely encourage them. The majority of people suffer in silence because we don’t believe the other person has the ability or motivation to change.
  2. Determine what you really want - When we feel frustrated or upset about a situation we tend to become defensive and irrational. Before you enter the conversation, take a step back and think about what you want to get out of the conversation. What do you really want for yourself, the other person and the relationship?
  3. Approach as a friend, not a foe- Before entering the conversation make sure you’re clear about your positive intentions. Often when we decide to raise an issue, it can be seen as an ambush. Explain your motives in a positive way and stress your desire to reach a mutual solution.
  4. Stick to what actually happened, not how you interpreted it - When we hold on to our concerns, we over-think our problems. This can cause a downward spiral of negative thoughts, for example: “management thinks I’m incompetent at completing tasks on my own”.  Before you have a discussion about the issue you need to step back and assess what has really happened and then think about the context you've wrapped around those observations.
  5. Agree a plan of action – If you’ve managed to speak up and clear the air, it’s important to agree what happens next. If you don’t, you’ll see the same behaviour resurface very quickly. What will you and the other person do differently moving forward to make sure that doesn’t happen?

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