What Keeps You From Speaking Up?

What Keeps You From Speaking Up?

Earlier this month I facilitated a leadership program for 15 professional and entrepreneurial women. The day focused on leading and communicating with others.

During the day the group participated in a variety of experiential learning activities, including one known as “Helium Stick” (see photo above).

Here’s how the activity works.

The women form two lines, facing each other. In this case, 7 on one side, 8 on the other. They stand close together, bend their arms to 90 degrees and stick their pointer finger straight out. Then I place the stick on their fingers.

There are two rules to follow:

  1. First, the stick and their fingers must remain touching the entire time. The stick cannot float away from their fingers.
  2. Second, together they must lower the stick to the ground.

That’s it. Then I leave them to figure out how to lower the stick.

To speak up or not to speak up?

Some women started shouting orders. Others stayed quiet and observed. Some looked confused. Others kept their heads down working hard to get the stick to the floor.

As a facilitator it’s fun to watch. As a participant, not so much.

After about 10 to 15 minutes, the ladies finally got the stick to the floor and walked back to their seats with a collective air of “Thank goodness that’s over!”

Then we debriefed.

Here is where things get juicy. As the women shared their experiences – everything from frustration to confusion to blaming others (which lead to an apology!) – one comment struck me the most.

“I had ideas about how to get the stick down to the floor, but I was afraid to sound bossy or appear aggressive, so I didn’t say anything.”

What I mean by “speaking up”

  • Impromptu, as in the exercise described above.
  • Voicing ideas or opinions in meetings.
  • Sharing critical information with employees.
  • Reaching out to clients or employees to say hi and check in
  • Saying “yes” to presenting to clients.
  • You’re in a meeting and wonder when they’ll get to the point, yet you’re afraid to ask.
  • Or perhaps you know you need to cut off the “over talker” in a meeting but aren’t sure how.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

What keeps you from “speaking up”?

In the ten years I’ve been coaching men and women on their communication and presentation skills, I’ve heard so many reasons that keep them from speaking up, voicing ideas and coming across dynamically in different business settings.

Maybe you can relate to some of them:

  • Body image/weight
  • Being teased or bullied as a kid
  • Past speaking/leadership experiences that didn’t go well
  • Not knowing if it’s their place to speak up
  • Fear of judgement or criticism
  • Fear of sounding bossy or aggressive or b*tchy
  • Stage fright
  • Don’t want to speak out of turn
  • Don’t want to sound silly or make a mistake
  • General malaise or belief that what you have to say isn’t important
  • Insert your roadblock here

Here’s what I want you to know:

Your ideas matter and deserve to be heard.

It all starts with awareness. So, the next time you find yourself “holding back” your ideas, consider and notice the following:

  • What’s keeping me from speaking up (be honest with yourself)?
  • How does not sharing ideas impact me and those around me (i.e., emotional, behavioral, physical, mental)?
  • Am I striking the right tone when I do speak up, or is my message misunderstood?
  • Am I willing to practice “speaking up,” even if it’s “messy” at first (we learn by doing)?

Bottom line

Your ideas matter. Whether fully formed or a starting off point for others to contribute, sharing ideas is a gift that can make life or business better for others. Would you rather keep ideas to yourself and feel like you’re not contributing or would you rather speak up and have a greater impact. The choice is yours.

Your voice matters. Keep shining.

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Humor, stories, and insights, delivered 2x per month, to perform without the pressure.

Topics include mental health, work, human connection, creativity and more.


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