The art of speaking up is a skill that a lot of executives struggle to master in ordinary times, let alone when everyone is trying to adapt to the cultural mores of videoconference calls.
Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong group of people can carry heady consequences for executives. Fear of how others will react to what we say is a powerful motivator for people to zip their lips on that Zoom call when they should be speaking their mind.
I remember having the fear of saying the wrong thing all too well, long before the acronym WFH was everyday vernacular. I was a young executive in a face-to-face meeting with a major telecom company. I didn’t like what was happening.
Sensing my frustration, a senior fellow in the meeting asked me afterwards: ”Why didn’t you say anything?” Next, he gave me some great advice I still use today and share with my clients. He told me that if I’m ever concerned about speaking up, I should ask myself three questions:
1. Does something need to be said?
2. Does something need to be said now?
3. Does something need to be said by me?
If the answer is “yes” anywhere along the line of this decision tree, you must act. Like any other business skill, you can work to sharpen the art of knowing when to speak up. It begins by understanding what succeeding at speaking up looks like. Following are best practice behaviors of leaders who inspire confidence with their communications:
Avoids letting fear color communications
People who are adept at speaking up don’t let fear rule their decision whether or not to say something. They don’t worry about being wrong or sparking conflict and aren’t intimidated by others in power. A true leader says what needs to be said, regardless of the consequences or whether or not the technology feels awkward.
Doesn’t shirk negative action when it’s needed
Leaders have to make tough decisions every day that anyone would want to dodge. But, the best leaders don’t back down from thorny challenges. They see taking the heat as par for the course.
Acts directly, decisively and rapidly
Leaders who speak up when the moment demands it don’t let things fester. They don’t hang back and hope someone else will handle it. They tackle problems immediately as they arise and express their concerns or wishes clearly without any hint of passive aggressiveness. In these extraordinary times, videoconference tools empower leaders to maintain the continuity of their communications, which is critical to effective leadership.
Doesn’t leave people guessing about their status
Leaders with enviable communication skills don’t play games, leave people hanging or make promises they can’t keep. People always know where they stand with leaders who are highly skilled at interpersonal communication and committed to maintaining healthy business relationships.
Arms people with information they can act on
Leaders skilled at speaking up do so with someone’s best interest in mind. They aren’t negative for the sake of being negative. They provide feedback that people can use to perform better. They mix positive and negative feedback to inspire people to grow.
This is a pretty lengthy list of best practice behaviors, but knowing when to speak up is simple when you look the lens of the three questions I first raised. It’s a trustworthy litmus that has stood the test of time for me and has served my clients well.