Speaking Up Is Hard To Do!

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

Yes it is, for many people. If you research the topic, you will uncover scientific studies that explain the changes in your brain and plausible explanations for why it is hard to do. I ask you to look no farther than your personal experience to acknowledge anecdotally that this is true.

Sometimes you are okay when you need to speak up to an individual or in a group small or large. Then there are other times, when you freeze or you rationalize why it makes logical sense to keep quiet.

Been there done that too! After the incident, as I will refer to it, how do you feel?

  • Are you still rethinking the situation and wondering if you did the right thing by staying quiet?
  • An hour later, are you still in a physically agitated state at what happened?
  • Does it put a pall over the rest of the day?
  • Are you preparing for the next time that happens and what you will do?
  • Are you _____ (fill in your own personal experience)?

Let's take off our thinking hat for just a moment and put on our feeling hat. What exactly happened at that moment in time when you wanted to say something, felt that you had something to offer and then didn't?

  • Did you feel safe?
  • Did you feel your inputs were welcome?
  • Did you feel that you were merely agreeing with the masses or did you have an alternate theory to share?
  • Were you afraid what people would think of you?
  • Were you concerned that by saying something different, it might not be appreciated by leadership and limit your career options?
  • Were you _____ (fill in your own personal experience)?

The pressing questions that come to mind immediately are:

  • Why does this happen only to me?
  • How can it be so easy for others?
  • What do you do about it?

First, let me share that it doesn't just happen to you; it happens to many people; clearly not all people, but many people. One can even opine that it happens more to highly intelligent people who overthink the situation. I share this so you know that you are normal. Recognition and acknowledgment is the first step to changing your comfort level, your lens and therefore your behavior.

As far as how it can be so easy for others - I suggest it is not easy for most. It is easier for some who have figured out how to change the lens through which they see.

As you experience fear, anxiety or worry, I invite you to consider your focal point. Are you in a space that is essentially 'all about me' or are you in a space that is 'about helping solve the problem'?

I was incredibly fortunate during my career to have been in a systems integration role for some years. In that role, one of my prime responsibilities was to help a diverse group of very smart people to align around one technically feasible approach and be fully committed to it. At any one time there were at least 10 different organizations that had valid points-of-view and a vested interest in the outcome.

So, what are some approaches or different lens? Ask yourself what if we focus on:

  • understanding all points of view in each situation and the reason the person feels the way they do
  • addressing the question: what's in the best interest of the customer, company, or group
  • making it about progress toward the ultimate goal, not about winning
  • gathering the information the team needs in order to make an informed choice
  • recognizing what it's not. " It's not All About Me". Others are most likely worried about themselves so they don't have time to make it about you. So don't make it about anybody
  • solving the problem - what's the problem you are trying to solve and why are you trying to solve it

Easier said than done you say. Well yes there is truth to that.

This process may take a lifetime to continually perfect, so that at a moment's notice you can speak up effectively in any situation. Working with leaders for decades clearly says it can be done. It is possible to become comfortable with the process of feeling uncomfortable, hitting the reset button and speaking-up effectively in almost any situation.

Why might it be worth it? I leave you with the following thought: As you look at your life past, present and future, and you think of the choices you have made, are making and will make- what significant choices are on the table that if you would find your courage to speak up could make a huge difference in the outcome? So is it worth the effort?