speaking up, truth to power

Speak Up to Disagree with Someone More Senior

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to state your disagreement or take a stand with someone who’s in a high position than yours,  like your boss, board chair, or someone else in leadership? It’s tough because you want to respect the person and/or the position, and at the same time, send the message that you think they’ve got something really wrong. Disagreeing with those in power was seen as an important function even in medieval times to the degree  that it was institutionalized in the form of the court jester. The jester was the only person who could use humor to disagree with or point out the follies of a ruler.

In today’s world, when you want to take a stand, or state something that someone in power may not agree with, consider a few things before you do that, so you remain a credible, respectful team player.

1. Check Your Own Motivations

Make sure that your message is not about you, but is for the good of the organization or your team. This is key because when you work with others, the central objective is not about furthering your own agenda. Rather, it’s about keeping the work at the center of the discussion and doing what’s right in the best interest of the project, the team, or the company. When you act out of unselfish motivations, you will likely reap personal benefits in the long run because because you will be seen as someone who is credible and has honorable intentions.

2. Assume Good Intentions

Everyone has good intentions and so does your boss and other powerful people. You might disagree with an assumption, an approach, the way they have framed the issue, but assume the underlying objective or reason for their “take” is good. You just need to figure out what those underlying motivations are for this individual and acknowledge them.

3. Speak Up When Stated Principles and Values Are at Stake

It’s not worth it to speak up about every detail that you disagree with. Speaking up to disagree with someone in a higher position is warranted when you see a stated ideal at issue. As you speak up to address the issue, go to the root of your disagreement by referring back to a broad principle that is very important to the company or to that specific individual. Observe how their current position seems to be at odds with a deeply held principle, purpose, value, or behavioral norm. By highlighting where you see the rub with what they’re advocating, speaking up to disagree is based on a loftier ideal and not simply a difference of opinion.

4. Help Them Save Face

This is not about you putting your boss or other senior person “in their place”. This is about you simply speaking up in a way that helps them to see the deeper issue that you’re trying to highlight. To avoid making their viewpoint seem “wrong”, you can propose a different solution or alternative that aligns with the higher ideals and with their their concerns. When you disagree in this way, other with seniority are more likely to listen to you and see you as someone who speaks up thoughtfully.

I can’t guarantee that everything will work out every time, but when you do seek to speak up to disagree with those more senior than you in this way, you remain respectful, maintain your credibility, and will be seen as a “team player”.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how you might be holding yourself back.

Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

What to Do When Someone Speaks Their Truth to Your Power

communication, leadershipSpeaking truth to power is something Americans believe in wholeheartedly. We love historical examples of the Founding Fathers sending a message to King George and of reformers like Martin Luther King, Jr. Americans revel in the stories of investigative journalists and whistle blowers who call out the hidden misdeeds of corporations and governments.

However, what do you do when you are the person in power on the receiving end of someone else’s truth? It’s not easy to hear a customer, employee or board member’s negative opinion of a decision you made or an action you took. However, you are not an absolute ruler. With leadership comes the responsibility to account for your decisions and actions and to deepen relationships by being trustworthy.

With that, here are some things to keep in mind for times when someone speaks their truth to your power:

1.    Put your ego aside.

Most of your actions and decisions aren’t about you personally anyway; they are or should be done for the good of your organization.  For this reason avoid getting defensive because you took criticism personally. Sometimes, another’s critique is more about himself than it is about the action you took. One way to avoid getting defensive is to . . .

2. Listen for commitment.

Be respectful, humble and vulnerable enough to hold the space for the other person to say what they have to say.  And as they speak, give them the benefit of the doubt by listening for what positive principles or values they are committed to in the end. By focusing intently for the core idea the other is communicating to you, it’s very possible you will be able to identify common ground.

3.  As an on-going process, consider creating the position of “fool” or “devil’s advocate”.

Your direct reports and other employees know where their bread is buttered.This can create a situation where they don’t speak up for fear of losing your favor or their jobs. Take a cue from indigenous cultures that have the role of the sacred clown and medieval monarchs who had court jesters or fools. It was their job to entertain and to enforce the rules of the group by highlighting what was proper and what was not, even by sometimes poking fun at others, including a King or Queen.

Alternatively, you can invite an outside observer, like a coach or consultant, to get a bead on the inconsistencies others notice but don’t voice aloud.

4.    Create a process that allows observations to move from the “bottom”, up to leadership levels.

Front line employees are often the first to see the disconnect between the company’s “walk” and its “talk”. A process that allows issues and opinions to bubble up and to be addressed could be as general as a survey, or it could include periodic forums where employees interface with leadership to discuss the impact leadership decisions make in practical terms.

Hearing the “truth” that someone else is living need not feel like an attack. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to find out how your intentions are translating into others’ reality.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?
You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.