Should I Say What I’m Thinking?! Ouch! Maybe Yes, Maybe No. Why can’t I just speak my mind? —especially when it’s true! This is a question I’ve wrestled with all my life, and it comes up in conversations almost every day, especially with leaders who are charged with getting outcomes.
Words Can Be Dangerous Weapons
Why can’t I just speak my mind? —especially when it’s true! This is a question I’ve wrestled with all my life, and it comes up in conversations almost every day, especially with leaders who are charged with getting outcomes.
Telling my boss, team, or key employee the truth I feel sure they need to hear seems at the moment to be critically important—but terribly risky. People’s egos unravel fast and reactions are often totally unpredictable.
Words can be as dangerous as a whole arsenal of weapons. Say the wrong thing and I lose a job, a sale, end up in a law suit, lose a friend, or end a life partnership. I doubt that anyone on the planet does not daily make the decision, “Should I say what I’m thinking?” “How much pain will I suffer if I do?”
Growing up visiting my West Texas relatives on their cotton farm I followed their example to speak my mind and tell it like it is—in their world if they didn’t tell people if they were doing their jobs, weeds would choke out the crops and unfed livestock would die.
“Tell it like it is” was the standard I followed as a young professional, and I was baffled that people often didn’t respond well. Over the years I’ve made a clumsy, difficult transition to sometimes speak my mind in other situations to bite my lip when I thought I would not be heard.
See If You See Your Profile in the Communicator Types Below. You Could Be in There!
Over the years I’ve found various types of people who approach telling it like it is—or not saying anything at all. There are at least four types of people in organizations who approach what they say in distinct ways—or decide not to say anything at all.
We probably all fall into one or more of the following categories. Do you recognize yourself in one of these groups, or perhaps as a combination of several?
- If Your Type is the Amiable. If you’re an Amiable, you often choose not to say anything at all, even in situations that bother you or you think should be corrected—to you it’s just not worth the fall out. You are probably very popular in your organization. You don’t want to engage in negativity and criticism. Your goal is above all to maintain harmony and you see a conflicted organization as a failing organization. To get along is to succeed.
- If You Identify with the Reliable. If you’re a Reliable, you came on board to get your job done, and idle conversations of any kind, positive or negative, slow you down. All the background noise keeps you from getting done what your role tells you to do. Stay focused on the task at hand, don’t make waves, keep your head down, and let someone else handle the politics.
- If You See Yourself as the Achiever. If you’re an Achiever, you have a lot to say and it needs to be said now and to those who will listen to you for the good of the organization. The objective is clear, the time is short, and if you aren’t pulling your weight, get out of my way and let me do it. The train is leaving the station, so get on or get off. Some people won’t get it, and it is unfortunate that they will complain about what you have to say.
- If Your Role is the Diplomat. If you’re a diplomat, you think before you speak, because you understand that the organization has goals to achieve, yet there is a time and a place to state important views, and you don’t express your views to everyone. You wait for the right moment and speak for best results.
The Way You Approach Speaking Up or Not is Appropriate—just not all the time
All the types we name are effective communicators in some situations. We must know when and where to use them. People love the Amiable, but conflict in the interest of outcome is often necessary. The organization loves the Reliable, because they get work done steadily without drama, but heads down makes the person unaware of what’s going on around them.
The Achiever can get an outcome at any cost, but they can leave so much damage that the organization is wounded. You would think the Diplomat would be the perfect role to achieve success, but in times of crisis there isn’t enough time for diplomacy—someone needs to take charge.
Three Absolutely Important Questions to Ask Yourself
So how do you answer the age-old question, when do I speak and when do I just keep quiet? It would be wonderful if there were a rule that is always applied, but there’s not. It’s an art not a science.
How do you think you’re doing? Answer these questions and you’ll be closer to knowing. Listen hard to your answers and you will have a pretty good idea:
- What feedback do you get from people about your communication?
- How solid are your relationships?
- Are you getting the results you need?
Use Words that Build, Not Tear Down
I have to take into account that communication builds organizations and achieves goals through people. People have egos, feelings, and reactions, and an ongoing relationship is important if at all possible. Community is vital because we ultimately are all each other have. If we value people, we know that what we say to them has a long impact, so we speak with love and care.