The Courage to Speak Up

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By Bill Auxier, Ph.D.

I conducted a survey of middle managers last month asking several questions about leadership.  When asked what they would like to change about themselves, the number one response was having the courage to speak up.  I was surprised by that!  Upon reflection, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised because I too have struggled at times with having the courage to speak up.  When I find myself in that situation, the question I always have is: what will the consequences be for speaking up?


The February issue of Success magazine had an article, Before You Complain Ask Yourself 5 Questions, by Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of Emotional First Aid and The Squeaky Wheel.  I modified the questions to apply to speaking up.  Here they are:

  1. What do I want to achieve? How you answer this question will provide you with direction and clarity of your goal which will increase the likelihood of achieving it.
  2. Who should I speak to? Your answer to the first question will help answer this question.  If you ask someone for help, be clear that you are simply asking them for help with no alternative motive.
  3. What is the best venue or method for me to speak up? Usually a one-on-one conversation in person is best.  Sometimes a conversation over the phone works.  Sometimes email can be used.  Warning!  I have firsthand experience with email being misinterpreted.  For me, verbal communication works best.
  4. When is the best time to speak up? Let the other person know you have something important you want to discuss.  This lets the other person know the seriousness of your intent and allows you to observe their reaction to determine the timing of the conversation.  One rule; no blindsiding.
  5. How should I phrase my statement? Whatever it is that you want to speak up about, start with a positive sentence followed by your concern followed by another positive sentence.  The first positive sentence helps defuse defensiveness.  The second part, the topic for which you are speaking up, should be motivational, communicating a subject that needs to be addressed.

Using this technique will help determine if you really want or need to speak up. The serenity prayer also helps.  I say it every day.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Effective leaders speak up.  Effective leaders enable others to speak up.

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