What happens when you imagine marshaling your courage and telling your boss or someone important that he’s made the wrong call? Do you fear retaliation or making a problem situation worse?
If speaking the truth to power feels as risky as jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, you’re not alone. Courageously confronting authority can entail personal and professional danger.
The problem, however, isn’t speaking the truth; it’s how you speak it. You can’t march in with verbal guns blazing, making aggressive “got ya” statements. Instead, you need to earn the right, avoid hit-and-run collisions, act as a partner, provide facts and prepare to be challenged.
Earn the right
Whom do we allow to tell us what we don’t want to hear? Those we trust. Before you offer your opinion, ask yourself: Have you earned the right? If you work in an organization, have you shown you’re invested in your company’s success? If you plan to provide negative views to a friend or peer, have you offered positive comments or do you speak up only when you don’t like something? Can you frame your concerns in terms of what’s best for your company? Do you genuinely care about the person you’re confronting?
Don’t “hit and run”
Remember, the bottom line of communication is communication. What the other person hears matters as much as what you say. If you want someone to hear your truth, don’t “hit and run” by speaking before you’ve considered how your words will sound. Think, “What can I say that the other person might agree with?” For example, would the other person agree he arrived 50 minutes late or that he doesn’t respect you?
Do you view yourself as the other person’s judge or jury, or as the other person’s friend in the foxhole, willing to deliver the hard truth without a judgmental, parental sting? If you keep what you say respectful, straightforward and empathetic, your delivery won’t bury your message.
If you want what you say to be heard, do your homework. Assess your viewpoint from all angles and marshal the facts that support what you’re presenting. When you speak facts, you allow another person to draw the same conclusion you have.
Keep your focus on issues, actions and behaviors rather than assumptions. For example, you might say, “We spoke for 40 minutes, and you never asked how this impacted me,” rather than, “You don’t care about my feelings.”
If you’re raising a touchy issue and don’t want the discussion to end in disaster, remember to observe how the other person takes what you say. By doing so, you’ll be able to calibrate if you’re getting through or if their eyes have filled with tears or glazed over with anger.
Be prepared for a reaction
When you present truth to power, you need to prepare for a reaction or to be challenged. When that happens, listen, hear the other personal out and consider what they’re saying. Remember, the truth may differ from what you thought.
Cost of silence
Finally, if there’s something you need to say, you let yourself down if you don’t speak up. Keeping silent when you see a looming problem provides at most temporary relief. You weigh yourself down with unsaid words.
You may even play charades, thinking it easier to rely on nonverbal hints and subtle innuendoes to get your message across. Regrettably, you’re not that good an actor. Others rarely receive the message you hope they would. Instead, when you suppress your feelings, your frustration and anger simmer into a toxic brew that eats you up inside or bubbles up.
Is it time to speak the truth to power? There’s no better time.