Speaking Your Truth

By Lain Chroust Ehmann

How often do you keep your mouth shut to avoid conflict and then find yourself wishing you’d spoken up? Whether it’s a negative performance review with a team member or a difference of opinion with a supervisor, we often stay silent in order to preserve a relationship or out of fear that we’ll be risking our position if we disagree. In fact, the opposite is often true.

“Silencing conflict doesn’t resolve anything,” says Leslie A. Perlow, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School and author of When You Say Yes But Mean No.
“When differences are kept quiet we limit creativity, learning and effective decision making. Moreover, work is hindered, productivity plummets, creativity shuts down and the organization itself suffers.”

But speaking up doesn’t mean running off at the mouth every time you disagree with someone, nor does it mean always getting your way. Here are Perlow’s tips on making your thoughts known effectively.

Only speak up if it’s a group or a person where you care about preserving the relationship. If the relationship isn’t important to you, it’s not worth the effort of disagreeing, says Perlow. Additionally, make sure the issue is core to your work. If it doesn’t matter, skip it.

Speak up early. “We wait way too long,” says Perlow. By delaying the moment of conflict, we hope it will become easier – instead it becomes harder. People also wait for the perfect moment, but the problem is, things never slow down and the difficult conversation is delayed perpetually.

Don’t think it’s all about getting your way. “Go in with the mindset of seeking understanding,” recommends Perlow. Whether you’re dealing with peers, your boss or your subordinates, total agreement isn’t needed before you can move forward. You don’t have to make a decision everyone agrees with, but everyone should feel they have been heard, Perlow says.

Be constructive. No one likes a naysayer, a constant critic or a Monday morning quarterback. If you’re going to share your thoughts, make sure you aren’t critiquing for the sake of critiquing. “You’re not supposed to go and be a complainer,” says Perlow. “There’s no value added in just complaining.”

To foster an environment of openness for your salespeople make sure you’re handling their comments – negative and positive – in a welcoming way. “The key moment is when someone says something you don’t want to hear,” explains Perlow. If you shut them down, no one will bring less-than-optimistic thoughts to you ever again.