Three Keys to Speaking Up When It Matters

By Harvard Business Review
April 15, 2019

You’re not really doing your job as a compassionate colleague or thoughtful leader if you don’t join the conversation. So what can you do?

Speaking up is hard to do. Let's say you see something ethically questionable, notice someone not being included, encounter offensive speech or disagree with a consensus opinion. Research suggests that most people tend to not act, and then rationalize their inaction.

You’re not doing your job as a compassionate colleague if you don’t join the conversation. Here’s how:

Realize how difficult and worthwhile speaking up can be: Research on “realistic optimism” shows that when people set out to do personally meaningful things, they’re more likely to follow through if they expect the task will be challenging. Recognize the difference between believing you will succeed and assuming you will do so easily.

Work to lessen the social threat of speaking up: Social motivation comes in five flavors: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. Together they form the common currency of interpersonal interaction: the rewards and threats we face when dealing with other people. When you’re speaking up, any one of these five buttons might be pushed, but most commonly it’s status. So you need to make clear you’re not out to get anyone, nor are you necessarily attributing ill will to the person or people you might be speaking about. Show that you’re providing feedback on impact, without making any assumptions about intent.

Make a plan: Uncertainty breeds inaction. “If-then” planners are about 300% more likely than others to reach their goals. Creating a plan for how to speak up in various situations can significantly increase the likelihood that you’ll do so when the moment presents itself.

Topics: Leadership

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