Speak Your Mind – If You Dare

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

You may have come across the concept of situational ethics at some point in your formal education. Without reliving that philosophy class that drove you nuts, we might think about a similar concept: situational communication. It’s really pretty simple, and most of us probably follow it as a rule even without thinking. Put plainly, we communicate differently depending not only on the situation we’re in but also who we’re communicating with. We speak to our romantic partner differently than a friend, to our children in different ways and differently depending on their age, and to strangers in an entirely unique way altogether.  

And then there’s our co-workers, managers or supervisors or clients — in short, our professional contacts. You probably speak to a co-worker one way when you first meet them and then more warmly or even intimately as some of them become friends. Communication in the workplace is an entirely different animal, with nuances that we perhaps rarely think about.

Writing for Success.com, Alex Frost says, “It’s happened to the best of us. You’re in a meeting — perhaps learning about a new company initiative or listening to a boss who wasn’t happy with your team’s performance — and you have something to say, but then you just… don’t. Because, after all, you want to keep your job, or you are worried it will come out wrong.” Keeping your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself in your work environment is all too common — a habit we slowly develop in response, perhaps, to a negative reaction to speaking up too freely.

The phenomenon of staying silent at work is gaining more and more attention. Frost points to a soon-to-be published book on the subject, Unlearning Silence: How To Speak Your Mind, Unleash Talent, And Live More Fully, by Elaine Lin Hering. In particular, Frost points out how “She pushes readers to explore how we’ve learned to be silent, how we’ve benefited from silence, how we’ve silenced other people — and how we might choose another way.”

Encouraging open communication in the workplace is a job for management. If the workplace culture is one of subtle intimidation, or groupthink, it would be the rare individual who would speak up despite the pressure. But if the culture is one of respect and openness, then it is up to you to take the initiative to speak your mind. In that case, there is valuable advice to consider. For example:

“Learning how to speak up more at work isn’t easy at first.” If you haven’t been speaking your mind, there’s probably a good reason you’ve been reluctant. The challenge is to confront the situation as it is. A good first step is to start slowly. “It can help to give it a go when you are in a room with more trusted colleagues and work friends,” writes Frost, “rather than starting in your most tense meetings.”

“Unlearning silence has a greater impact on women.” Anecdotes about women who speak their mind being labeled as aggressive or too assertive are common — probably because it’s practically the norm. Unfortunately, that stereotype persists, and it adds another reason for women in particular not to speak up. The advice from above applies here as well: get a little practice in speaking your mind with friends to build your confidence.

Frost has more advice — “don’t just complain — come with a solution,” “Use some psychology for better results” — along with some tips on “unlearning silence” from author Elaine Lin Hering. Read Frost’s full article here for a deeper dive into the topic.

Find Hering’s book on Amazon here.