I’ve no voice – helplessness and speaking up!

“This makes no sense – I’ve no idea what I am supposed to do, what is this supposed to achieve?”, “S/he’s done it again – they’ve made a decision without consulting and something important has been missed”, “We are once again trying to fix X, when Y is the issue”.  Recognise any of these and a plethora of other occasions when something is not working, has been misinterpreted or is simply going wrong? Do you speak up and risk being cast as ‘negative’, ‘disruptive’, ‘not a team player’? Will you look stupid? Is it better to keep your emotions, observations and queries bottled up and grin and bear it? Do you act a helpless manner, like you’ve no voice and merely mutter in the corridors? This article is a thought provoker for those of you that are fed up with seeing things unresolved and feeling hopeless because they can’t do something. It goes alongside the previous article https://leadershipfootprints.com/footprints/nobody-say-getting-others-speak/

Working with organisations I see this all the time. Good, bright loyal people, wanting to do a good job, seeing things misdirected, misaligned and outright counter productive. People feeling like their voice is unimportant – and in fact making their voice unimportant – because it’s seldom heard. You’ll seldom get in trouble for feigning ignorance but you will do for speaking out. That is a common refrain. Really? Is that true? Or is that a rationalisation for you to avoid having to take a deep breath and say something that might be unpopular, that might  mean others become a bit defensive and that they may not react well to at first? 

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering speaking out

  1. What is my most typical pattern, to speak out on everything, or to seldom say anything? Which pole are you nearer to? Do you tend to be over-cautious, going to extremes in your head about the potential negative consequences about how others may react to you? Do you tend to blurt it out come what may?  If your intuition and emotions are suggesting you need to do something about this and it isn’t your default position, your physiology is giving you a message because it wants you to pay attention. This has a level of importance to you. At least pay attention to it. Be curious – what is it about this that has sparked you in some way? Is it this particular issue or is this a symptom of something wider?
  2. What will be the cost of not taking some sort of action? To others? To you! Often we consider the potential price of speaking out. What is the price on you and your spirit and sense of purpose if you bottle things up and say nothing? How much will you ruminate over this, going round and round in your head over what might happen? Taking no action is actually a decision – and one you are responsible for.
  3. What specifically do you need to say? Often there are a couple of things you want to raise and the one that you actually deal with is the least important. For example your boss imposes some objectives on you which don’t make sense (to you anyway) and you don’t actually agree with. There are a few things here – the objectives, which you neither understand nor agree with and what is often the larger thing – they have been imposed with no discussion. Bringing up the former will not resolve the latter. Asking how these objectives relate to your job doesn’t cover the fact that you feel completely unimportant when things are imposed on you with no discussion! Yet if we speak up we often settle and deal with the most trivial piece – we raised something, that was brave, rather than raising what is most important to us. Know what you really want to deal with.
  4. What would you recommend? What would you like to happen? Give some sense of what you’d like or want, that’s taking some responsibility.
  5. If you were to raise this (imagine you are going to, despite not yet having made that decision), how will you word it in such a way that the other person will hear both what you want and not take personal offence? Begin by saying (in private or with a trusted colleague) precisely what you would like to say in the manner you would like to say it. Once you’ve actually heard yourself out loud you’ll get a better idea of which parts are actually fine to say and which need rephrased or crafted a bit more. People are often surprised by how reasonable what they actually say is when they put their mind to it. Have another go. Now decide – is this something you resolve to deal with or will you just let it go. Commit to one or other, decide to spend no more time considering whether you will or won’t. Make that decision.
  6. If you are going to go ahead, when is he or she most receptive? How can you show that you are not raising this to score points or leave the other party feeling stupid or put down? How is the other party likely to react? What emotion do you need to express – if you don’t express any, how will he or she know this is important to you?
  7. Be able to state in a single sentence what your issue is so that you are able to summarise this should you be misunderstood or the conversation go off in a tangent. 

In some situations our livelihood may well be at risk, however in reality these are few and far between. It’s become an habitual response to stay quiet and avoid conflict, not upset others, go along. A learnt helplessness. Almost always I find when my clients do the counter-intuitive thing and tackle the issue and find their voice they and those around them are stronger, relationships improve and resolutions are found. Free yourself, find your voice when you need it! 

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