Speaking Up May Be Harder Than You Think
It’s true that feedback is a gift. But sometimes, managers go beyond sharing insights and they offer the employee the “perfect” solution for how to resolve it. With communication feedback…that can get a little tricky.
That’s certainly been my experience as I’ve coached people who got feedback to “speak up”.
It’s one of those phrases that seems so simple. In reality, it means different things coming from different managers.
- Some use it to tell someone that they’re soft-spoken and need to speak up so they can be heard… They’re guiding projection.
- Others use it to suggest that someone isn’t adding to meetings or discussions, and they need to “speak up more”…They’re guiding brand and impressions.
- Still others use it more generally to suggest to someone that they need to speak up in a setting or with a specific group…They’re guiding executive presence.
As we’ve explored this further with clients across the globe, we continue to learn the meaning of the phrase across different backgrounds and diverse cultures. More formal cultures guide respect by not speaking up unless you’re asked to. There may be a “sir” or a “Ms. Jones” added as part of it. For this employee, “speaking up” may be harder than you think.
Many people have shared their beliefs that they don’t have the right to speak up unless someone calls on them or asks for their input. Sometimes gender plays into it and skews their confidence in speaking up.
Still, others shared their upbringing and beliefs about being assertive. They were encouraged to be assertive, so they weren’t ignored or tuned out. They enter a lot of business settings ready to defend their perspective and may be seen as pushy or aggressive. Their goal has always been to “speak up.”
And the best way to approach feedback with any of these perspectives is to start by understanding the WHY instead of jumping in with WHAT they should do differently.
The manager’s perspective is right. People do need to be seen and heard in settings to establish their brand, their experience and their way of thinking. No one sees you as a strategic thinker unless they hear you as a strategic communicator.
But everyone may not get there in the same way.
Here are a few suggestions for uncovering the WHY behind “speaking up.”
You have an employee who is soft-spoken.
Start this conversation by asking “Has anyone ever told you that you’re soft-spoken?” Technically, they need to understand how to get their voice forward and project more effort behind their words. But they may have known that since they were six years old, and they may have tried multiple ways to do this. Most people have the ability to do it; they hold their voice back for various reasons. It could be because a parent spoke softly, and they learned to follow that speech pattern. It could also be the opposite. A parent spoke very loudly, and they spoke softly to avoid mirroring an overbearing speech pattern.
Some women view soft-spoken as demure, and they may be in a culture that fosters that. Some men view soft-spoken as respectful, and they may be illustrating a more formal upbringing.
By allowing someone to tell you more about the WHY behind soft-spoken, you’ll know whether there are some perceptions to work through as well as skills to support voice strength.
You have an employee who doesn’t speak much in meetings.
Start this conversation by asking: “Do you want to add to conversations?” And then allow the employee to tell you WHY they don’t speak up. It could be that they don’t want to speak up because others speak too much, and it makes meetings run long. They may hear the feedback as a suggestion to show up more like a peer who talks too much. Managers often give guidance by saying “You should speak up like Jeff does in meetings.” Jeff may monopolize conversations more than you realize, and an employee who is more introverted than Jeff will never follow that advice.
As you explore the WHY, you may also learn that an employee doesn’t think as fast as others in the room. They may say that they have thoughts to add…. after the meeting wraps up. They just need more time to think it all the way through.
Every manager should know the make-up of a group and the different kinds of thinkers in the room. Someone who is more process-oriented needs time to think it through before they’ll jump in with an idea or answer that may be wrong. If you knew this, you could help this employee by providing agendas ahead of time. A process thinker will be great if given the time to prepare.
You might also have an employee who isn’t speaking up from a place of respect or a more formal upbringing. And they may literally not know when to do so. You can learn more about this by asking “If you have something to add, what keeps you from jumping in?” If you knew this, you could create openings in conversations and invite a more hesitant employee into the conversation. So, they’ll worry less about when it’s appropriate and speak up more when you invite them into the conversation.
You have an employee who talks too much.
Start this conversation by saying: “You had a lot of enthusiasm today. I felt like you said the same thing multiple times. Why?”
If someone was guided to be assertive, they may continue to “speak up” again and again until they feel acknowledged or as if they won the discussion. They may be seeking some kind of validation or credit that isn’t likely in most meetings.
So how do you guide the “over-talkers” to a better balance?
Their blind spot isn’t really how much they’re speaking. It’s the lack of focus on everyone else. There may be insights in the WHY behind someone who feels the need to be heard the most. For this employee, the real opportunity or learning is the perspective of everyone else. Get insight on how they feel heard by asking “How did the group react to your idea? What was the reaction you were expecting?”
You can guide this person through awareness of team dynamics and the concept of a great team player who not only speaks to share their perspective but also speaks to move a topic toward an outcome that includes everyone’s input.
“Speaking Up” can mean something different to each of us. If you have an employee who needs to show up differently, start with a better understanding of WHY they don’t speak up. Be less quick to solve it from your perspective and more patient with understanding the WHY from the employee’s perspective.
Feedback is a gift, and spending the time to understand the WHY behind a behavior gets everyone to a better outcome. If you’d like to improve the way you give feedback, we can help.
Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!