You know the feeling… sitting in a meeting, a topic comes up with a course of action that you do not quite agree with. A moment of silence fills the conference room as you glance around the table, hoping that someone else will raise their hand and speak up. A knot fills your throat, your heart races as you think, “Should I say something? No, who am I to say something? Surely someone else will… Someone else has to know this isn’t quite right…”
The silence remains, seconds that feel like hours, and the moment passes.
No course correction.
Another missed opportunity.
For years the status quo has called for us to keep our heads down and go with the flow. Don’t talk too much or ask questions. If you rock the boat, that puts a target on your back. While this can provide job security and a sense of safety, it has unfortunately left many corporations stagnant—and for those employees who thrive on change and growth— horribly unfulfilling places to work.
If I asked you to name five things you would change about your workplace, what would you say? Have those topics come up in staff meetings, company surveys, or one-on-ones with your boss? Did you raise your hand, ask the question, voice your opinion, or offer a solution for change?
No? Then, Why?
Often we swallow the lumps in our throats out of fear…fear of ridicule, fear of retribution, and fear of retaliation. But if we take a moment, step back and think about, what is the real fear? Could the true fear be that we think our idea is stupid or won’t go over well – or that it is actually the right idea and we won’t be supported by our peers, or worse, our boss?
The truth is that our places of work are thirsty and dying for new ideas. Leadership is constantly scanning and searching the talent pool looking for someone who will dare raise their hand, take ownership of an idea, and contribute to the company. There is space and dire need for change agents, champions, and sounding boards in our conference rooms and hallways. In a time where companies are struggling to stay competitive, and desiring to be better places to work to retain talent, your voice is vital and critical to the path of change.
But how do we do it? How do we find our voice? Conquer the lump in our throat and the pounding in our heart? How do we provide a safe space for those finding their voice?
Start Small | Your idea does not have to be the world’s next greatest idea, no one is asking you to be Elon Musk. If you never ask questions in a meeting, ask at least one question. Did someone make a good point? Comment on the point and take the idea one step further. Remember, this does not have to be a grand gesture. We are practicing flexing courage bit by bit.
Be Willing to Answer the Question | One of the worst feelings in a meeting, is when you stand before a room of people and ask, “So what does everyone think about that idea?” and all you are met with is the hum of the projector, blank stares and heads that bounce around the room. Sigh. Be the one that answers the question! Even if it is as simple as, “Yes, I think that is a great idea. It would work because…*insert brief explanation here*” or if you disagree, “Have we considered this option…” Speaking of which…
Get Comfortable with Disagreeing | Charlan Nemeth in In Defense of Troublemakers states, “If you want anyone to pay attention to you in meetings, don’t ever preface your opposition to a proposal by saying: “Just to play devil’s advocate . . .” If you disagree with something, just say it and respectfully hold your ground until you’re convinced otherwise.” Companies are overrun with peer pressure to conform leading to group-think, which limits innovation and can lead to bad ideas going unchallenged.
Enable Others | Fostering an environment that allows others to freely voice opinions and share different perspectives, will reap rewards in creativity, leadership, and ownership with employees. Know that at times it can be uncomfortable to create the environment, but the rewards are greater. In addition, being an example is a spark that ignites others to have courage as well. And instead of one voice, a chorus of conversation is created, and that is where the true magic begins to happen.
Always remember, you were hired for a reason. Your thoughts, ideas, and voice are powerful and desperately needed. We can either continue to complain about the things we want to see change, or redirect that energy to start changing the environment around us.