Speak Up

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several leaders on their leadership skills. One of the trends that I have noticed is there’s a tendency for leaders to put off having crucial conversations with people that are critical to organizational success.

Examples include:

  • Team members are operating as “lone rangers” instead of being part of the team
  • Employees improve in their productivity for a couple weeks and then backslide
  • Managers are not on the same page and send mixed messages
  • People are at odds with each other and it is affecting productivity
  • Unproductive employees are not contributing to daily objectives

If you are experiencing some of these common workplace situations, it can be very frustrating. You really don’t understand why these situations continue to occur. And on top of that, many times these unproductive situations have been going on for years!

As a result, you stay below the radar and just focus on trying to get your work done.

A Vicious Cycle

I was raised to avoid these uncomfortable and awkward situations with people in the workplace. I used to think, “Well, if I’m not a manager or directly involved, why should I speak up and try to make a difference?” This approach was not productive for me and certainly didn’t help others.

When people are being ineffective, it causes a downward spiral. An unproductive situation creates a vicious cycle that is very difficult to get out of and it doesn’t get better with time. It gets worse.

The most common outcome of letting unproductive situations go results in the most talented people leaving the organization. Or, a person that is involved in an unproductive situation gets terminated because he or she was not developed or directly coached. In both cases, each outcome is very costly to the organization.

Why do People Shy Away from Speaking Up?

The most common response I hear is people are afraid they will hurt someone’s feelings if they “tell it like it is”. The tendencies among people in the work place is to say, “Well, that is just John”, or “There isn’t anything I can do about the situation.”

Here’s another one, “If I tell my boss what I really feel I will receive a repercussion. It won’t be worth bringing it up!”

In some cases repercussions are real but the majority are imagined. In reality, we choose to ignore situations that are affecting productivity because we want to avoid a difficult conversation.

As a result of avoiding a needed conversation, on the premise that things will get worse, we actually cause situations to get worse. This in essence is the definition of a self-defeating behavior – the very thing we are avoiding is what we create.

What is the Best Course of Action?

The old saying, “honesty is the best policy” applies to difficult situations. I am reminded of an exercise where you ask people this question: “If I was unhappy with your work would you rather me come tell you directly or tell your boss?” Of course, people always respond with, “I would want you to come tell me if I wasn’t doing my job.”

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Why? Because direct communication builds trust and is the right the thing to do. Not necessarily easy, but the right thing to do.

Have the Courage to be Candid

Each of us can make a breakthrough with people by being more candid. Candor is a communication skill where you speak openly, honestly, and directly about a situation with the intent to help.

By being candid with people, you are surfacing a situation in a fair, frank, firm, and friendly manner. Candor is a highly effective leadership skill to master. Add candor to your leadership toolbox and you will find that being more candid is quite rewarding.

Candor is Not Being Abrasive

Have you experienced some people that are so direct they are abrasive? Yes, any strength overused can become a weakness. An individual that effectively communicates with candor is an individual that comes across as clear and approachable.

Let’s use the four F’s (fair, frank, firm and friendly) to remember how to and package an effective, candid conversation.

  • Fair

Being fair means that you have removed any personal bias of the situation and you are going direct with the subject matter based on evidence not emotions.

  • Frank

When you speak frankly, you are communicating the situation at hand and how it is affecting productivity. Being frank means you are confident in bringing the situation to the forefront so the people involved may communicate, come up with solutions, and take action.

  • Firm

A firm communicator is one that doesn’t change his point of view based on people reacting or resisting to his ideas. You will be tested by others to see if they can sway your perspective. Be firm and communicate the truth with the intent to help others.

  • Friendly

A friendly communicator is one that has a pleasant and inspiring approach. Your body language communicates to others that you are at ease; you are interested in making things better, and confident the people involved are interested in collectively solving an unproductive situation.

How Do You Speak Up?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and founder of the About Leaders community and drMaryKay.com. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Online course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.