Written By: Randy Emery
In all my years serving on boards and being part of an executive team, I have found there were times when I didn’t speak up or ask a question for fear of embarrassment. Maybe it’s because I concluded that I should have already known the answer or that it might appear that I wasn’t paying attention. Or maybe I simply thought I was just not at the level of the others and didn’t want to expose myself. When it happens, I walk away feeling a bit unfulfilled and that I might have let others down by not adequately participating.
Effective communication is not accomplished by just knowing what to say or when and how to say it. It’s done through a combination of listening to understand and contributing when appropriate. But all too often, we listen to respond and not to understand. Once we understand, we can better participate in the conversation.
But equally, it’s all too common for individuals to lay back and say nothing when they really have something of value to say. It might be an idea, a question, a suggestion, a criticism, or just an observation. But for some reason, we don’t want to speak up. Maybe we are afraid of alienating someone, looking mean, foolish, or just opening a can of worms. So, we stay silent. After all, it’s the wiser choice, right? Here are a few reasons why it is important to speak up.
We are often staying silent, thinking it keeps us from being involved in any conflict, but it’s the opposite. Silence is acquiescing to the majority and can be perceived as approval. Silence can be as much an active form of communication as talking. If you have an opinion or evidence to the contrary, it’s not only fair for you, but others as well, that you share it.
No one else may know or understand. You can’t assume the obvious is obvious. Your knowledge and experience can provide valuable insight into a given situation. Other participants might not automatically recognize your values, ambitions, skills, or desires when you're quiet. You just might be doing yourself and others a disservice by not sharing your expertise. It’s very possible that no one else has your individual perspective. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything on your mind is worth sharing. But with some discretion and thought, you have the ability to bring value to the conversation. It’s just possible you’re not doing yourself or others a favor by not sharing your expertise or experience on the matter.
Besides, have you ever considered that you might not be alone in your thinking? More often than you might realize, it’s entirely possible others are not understanding what might seem to be obvious – but are quiet for fear of asking for more clarification or presenting an alternative thought. By speaking up and asking the question, you just might be doing others a favor.
One of my favorite movies is a 1957 film titled 12 Angry Men. It’s not only a classic movie, but it demonstrates the importance of speaking up and being heard, if for no other reason than to at least have the discussion and see where it goes. Introduce the topic, explore the alternatives, and bring it to closure – good or bad – doing so can allow you to move on.
The movie focuses on a jury’s deliberations in a capital murder case. The opening scene is the jury walking into the jury room to begin deliberations in a first-degree murder trial of an 18-year old Puerto Rican boy accused of the stabbing death of his father. The case clearly appears to be open-and-shut. The defendant has a weak alibi, his knife is found at the murder scene, and several witnesses either heard screaming, saw the killing, or saw the boy fleeing the scene. Anxious to be done, eleven of the jurors immediately vote “guilty,” but only Juror #8, Mr. Davis (Henry Fonda), casts a “not guilty” vote. What you learn is that it’s not that he is convinced the defendant wasn’t guilty, but it’s because he wants to have the discussion.
The bulk of the movie is how a simple yet annoying request flushes out bias and preconceived opinions and how a contentious discussion leads to a unanimous conclusion entirely different than originally anticipated. Juror #8 had to take the risk in opening up a discussion the others didn’t want to have so that the greater good could be accomplished.
Speaking up is an opportunity to demonstrate you are invested. If not, why are you in the conversation? Speaking up is an important form of honesty that actually builds trust, especially when combined with tact and empathy. It demonstrates that you will be truthful with people, that you care about them, give good advice, and you will never lack for trusting others.
Med One as an organization and within its board of directors has created the environment to welcome an open dialogue. My experience has shown me that folks are not afraid, intimidated, or threatened by a frank and polite exchange of questions, ideas, and suggestions. As I have witnessed at the annual employee meetings, individuals at all levels of the organization are not only comfortable but encouraged to speak up and share their thoughts and opinions. This is all part of the amazing culture Larry Stevens and Brent Allen (founders) have created for the company. Beyond the financial metrics, the wonderful employees, and the importance of the company’s mission, I think this is what I like best about Med One. It seems to be an unwritten core to its culture.