Don’t be Afraid to Speak Up

You’re in a conference room with your co-workers; managers and all levels of employees.

The leader is running the agenda. There are challenges presented. The leader asks for feedback.

At this precise moment, the mute button is placed on the participants.

You know the answer to the solution. You want to say something, but your internal mute button is activated.  Your brain is processing the following:

1) By speaking up, will I be stepping on _____’s toes?

2) Will I look  like a sycophant, self-serving and showy?

3) Maybe I don’t have all the details; maybe there’s something I don’t know.

4) I don’t want to look dumb.

Consider any one of these things, and it’s likely you will remain silent.

It’s a bit comical- a meeting was held to come up with a solution, and no one wanted to say anything other than to contribute to the groupthink- working around the margins, being cooperative but not collaborative at all.

Meeting FAIL.

I was chatting this morning with a friend who is at a work retreat. The teams participating have been presented a list of agenda items, tasked with collaborating on solutions.

She asked about her level of participation, and what she should say (or not say).

I told her to speak up.


A client of mine was recently part of a work  team challenged to review their department operations and suggest action items.

The conversation veered from the ordinary to an unusually delicate subject: Their department’s very name was in question.

Someone mentioned that other departments were not sure exactly what my client’s team actually did.

Marketing reported they were having some challenges explaining the mission in their campaigns.

My client told me she leaned back in her chair, listened to the discussion, and simply stated “Let’s come up with a name that our customers AND staff clearly understand.”

Something happened at that moment; the other people at the table started talking with each other about trends in their industry. They wondered aloud if their division name reflected the current (and future) state of their business.

A colleague stood up, walked over to the whiteboard, and wrote a word.

Silence. Heads nodded in agreement.


By choosing the right words to frame the problem, you take personalities out of it. The vibe in this particular discussion now changed to one of  participation.  What my client didn’t say was as important as what she did.

She didn’t say, “Marketing is dropping the ball on messaging…”

She framed the challenge as something that affected all the stakeholders at the table. She created an atmosphere of buy-in that was bigger than any one person or paradigm.

The team wins. Problem solved.


A brilliant colleague at my office recently introduced me to this, and I was immediately intrigued. Forward thinking companies for years have experimented with the practice known as Six Sigma, or in Silicon Valley parlance, Agile management.

To oversimplify it for the purposes of our conversation, let’s call Agile the art of saying to the team, “Nothing is ever finished”.

I once posted on my Facebook

Another day, another Adobe update

My great mistake. I totally missed the point. Yes, there is indeed another update ready for download.  A bug fix, and an upgrade, day after day after day. The release of the original product was truly only the beginning.

Agile managers ask their people to constantly consider evolution. We can do it by ourselves or as part of a group, or both.  Some of our greatest ideas come to us when we are alone. Some of our best innovations are dreamed up while walking the dog. That’s an important perspective- managers who identify their best solo thinkers are wise to allow them to play to their strength.

But collaboration is frequently required, so using the right words to explain a challenge can change a meeting’s vibe from tedious groupthink to solution.

Speak up. Say something. Go for it.


Change is inevitable- embrace it and do the work you truly love.

Join me for my course The Reinvention of You on Skillshare, beginning April 2.

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