“I spoke up about the issue!” my client Julie looked radiant. She shared that she had raised her long-standing concerns about how a large-scaled project was being managed to the top management of her company.  The issue had bothered her for a long time and she’d been speaking about it to everyone but… her bosses.

What made her change her mind and gave her the courage to finally speak up?  It was the forthcoming change in her life  – she was preparing to leave the company. Suddenly, she was no longer vested in keeping her reputation as the ‘nice Julie” (the name has been changed).  She suddenly felt free of her fear to antagonize others, and thus allowed herself to voice her opinion.

Result?  The top managers took her feedback on board and started discussing the issue between themselves. They might even do something about it now. My client realized that her constructive criticism might have helped not just her (by making her feel in alignment with her intrinsic values of integrity, excellence and meaningful contribution) but by speaking up, she has helped her company and her colleagues who were also unhappy not had not been vocal about the lingering issue.

What stops so many of us from speaking up regularly?  Here’re some common barriers:

–  fear of judgement, disapproval and criticism

–  desire to keep the reputation as someone kind and nice intact

–  desire to please and get along with everyone (even if it means swallowing up and keeping our real opinions to ourselves)

– fear of conflict (and associated lack of belief in our ability to resolve it constructively)

– fear of rejection

If you are happy with being small, you may stop reading here. However if you have bigger ambitions, if you want to make a bigger impact within your organization, if you care to make a difference and you want to advance in your career, here are some tips:

1. Take time to reflect on an area of your life and career that is less than optimal and where you had been keeping your opinions to yourself. Maybe you haven’t been able to speak up when your manager criticizes you, or you haven’t been able to demonstrate your leadership potential, or you haven’t asked for a promotion that you know you deserve.

2. Ask yourself what is holding you back from speaking up in that area, from being more assertive and voicing a different opinion or disagreeing – with your boss, your colleague, your peer?  What happened in the past – eg your childhood – when you voiced a different view to others?  Were you rewarded or punished? Were you judged harshly? Most people as children were not encouraged to speak up or stand out.  Their opinions and contributions were not made welcomed.  Your insights into your childhood will provide some clues to why you might be avoiding being assertive nowadays.

3.  Reassure yourself that the childhood is behind and you can take care of yourself if someone does not take your feedback well. Choose to leave the childhood realm behind and to be different today.

4. Recognize that anyone who is not open or receptive to your expression of your opinion or contribution is a victim of their own insecurities or jealousy. You don’t have to grant them the power to hurt you. You are not a child anymore, and while we can’t stop other people from judging us, we do have a choice not to take others’ judgement personally. Their judgement or disapproval is about them, not you.

5. Before speaking up, take your ego out of the equation and focus on the end user – your company/organization, your team, results and performance, your family (if it’s your partner you need to speak up to) – those who are going to benefit from your speaking up.  Think of the impact/benefits your assertiveness will have on your organization. You may want to compare how your silence is impacting the way things are.

6.  Regular contributions at meetings and elsewhere (maybe in written form in company newsletter) need to become part and parcel of your Personal Branding strategy.  Choose to see your contributions as strategic steps aimed at raising your visibility. If you don’t stand out and speak up, you will not be known and will not advance your career.

7. Construct your feedback/opinion in a sandwich mode: positive comment + constructive criticism/feedback voiced with respect + positive comment.

8. Start small and assert your views little by little by acting more assertive every day and observe what happens.  You will still feel some anxiety and it’s normal – you are doing something new, something against the pattern that you grew up with and that you’ve had for most of your life…

9. Do not keep your opinions to yourself  until you can’t stand your colleagues, your boss or your company and want to leave.  What happens sometimes when we hold ourselves back  from asserting our truth for a long time is that we grow so disillusioned and disheartened until we can’t stand the person or company and want to change. In some cases, people’s unexpressed emotions lead to explosions and loss of temper. Please remember: whatever the end result, even if we change companies, we will take our old unassertive selves to the new environment and risk resurrecting the old patterns there…

You can choose to be different – brave, opinionated and assertive – this week and that on its own will be your first victory!

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