Effective communication is not mastered by just knowing what to say and how to say it. A significant factor is knowing when to say it.
Everyone struggles with speaking their mind from time to time. It is much easier to hide behind those who love to talk, let others take control, and not draw attention to yourself. However, there are circumstances when speaking up is the most important thing you can do.
Often we sit back and say nothing when something should be said. It could be anything: an observation, an idea, a suggestion, a criticism… yet for some reason, we don’t speak up.
We may be afraid of coming across as harsh or stupid or uncovering something that creates more problems than it solves. Sometimes staying silent may seem the wiser option. But despite the risk, when we have a different view, standing up for that view is best.
Anytime you are involved in a situation, people see both your input and the lack of it. If you don’t approve of what’s happening and say nothing, people will assume that you do approve.
Remaining silent can be a positive action: imagine your line manager is instructing you in a particular process – remaining deliberately silent is a prompt to your manager to keep speaking, to keep explaining until you feel you have all the facts you need.
On the other hand, silence in strategic meetings is generally interpreted as approval. We may think that remaining silent will prevent us from getting involved in a conflict, but usually its the opposite. Silence is as powerful a communication tool as speaking. When you’re not being silent for a purpose, it’s more positive to speak out!
Sometimes we stay silent because we don’t want to do harm by offending or criticising someone. However, when a person or the team is going down a dangerous path, by staying silent, you may actually be hurting those people you wish to help. In almost all teams, speaking out for the needs of the group, rather than protecting the feelings and needs of individuals, will contribute most to positive outcomes. And the more confidently you do this, the more your positive contribution will be noticed!
What’s the worst that can happen if you speak up? Someone might disagree. The best case is that everyone benefits and you are recognized as a strong leader with unique and valuable insights.
Engaged communication demonstrates that you are involved. How did you find yourself in the conversation in the first place? You were invited into the dynamic. If you genuinely don’t have a role then look for better use of your time. By being active and vocal, you show your commitment to the process and those involved.
Speaking up is an essential form of honesty. Honesty builds trust, especially combined with empathy. Demonstrate that you will be truthful with people, that you care about them, and that you give valuable advice, and you will never lack for trusting colleagues and friends.
No one else may see you what you see. What is ‘obvious’ to you may not be so obvious to others. Your experience and knowledge have value in a specific situation. That’s why you’re there in the first place! No one else has your perspective. Sure, not everything in your head is worth communicating but, with discretion and understanding, you should be able to bring added value to most situations.