Should I Speak Up?

Regular readers of Atomic Spin probably already know that Crucial Conversations is required reading for all new Atoms. The authors—Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler—didn’t stop there, however. They’ve written several books, including the one I’ve been reading lately, Crucial Accountability.

While reading one of the earlier chapters, I was struck by four simple questions to determine whether or not you should speak up at work. Imagine the very plausible situation where a manager walks into a meeting and presents the “plan” that he or she developed in isolation and expects everyone to follow. You may have some reservations, but should you say anything? The following questions can help you decide.

Two Atoms working together on computers in the Ann Arbor office

Four Questions

Am I acting out my concerns?

Contrary to what you may believe, you are not good at hiding your feelings. Not only can your facial expressions betray what you are trying to keep hidden, but your interactions with others can, as well.

Did a co-worker promise to get something done for you while you were on vacation–and then failed to deliver? If you don’t discuss the broken commitment with that person, you may find yourself limiting conversations, making sarcastic remarks, or even discussing his or her behavior with your other co-workers. We all immediately recognize that none of these actions are productive, yet we continue to engage in this sort of behavior under certain conditions.

Before it gets to this point, learn to recognize and understand the trigger behind your actions. There may be something you need to discuss.

Is my conscience nagging me?

All of us have been in situations where someone acted in an ethically ambiguous manner. It’s not immediately clear if this person was in the wrong, but it bothers us all the same.

I know I’m guilty of ruminating after witnessing a family member, friend, or co-worker engage in a behavior that I don’t agree with. It’s far better to point out why you’re uncomfortable with something. Even if the other person is not interested in your opinion, you’ve been heard. That can make all the difference when you’re trying to sleep at night.

Am I choosing the certainty of silence over the risk of speaking up?

In most situations, you can be certain that not speaking up will cost you nothing in the immediate time frame. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any costs, however. You could be ignoring a much greater, longer-term cost. For instance, you could be allowing a new pattern of behavior to develop which will be much more difficult to stop as time goes on.

On the other hand, sharing your concerns could expose you to consequences such as ridicule, loss of credibility, or even a damaged relationship. But we frequently overstate those costs.

Imagine finding yourself in a position where you’re holding a friend accountable. You certainly may experience some of these consequences. However, once you convince your friend that you’re not judging him or her and are only concerned about a specific situation, you stand an excellent chance of not only eradicating a harmful pattern, but also strengthening a friendship.

Am I telling myself I’m helpless?

It’s easy to tell yourself that you’re helpless to change someone’s questionable behavior. But are you really? When you have people’s respect, they will want to ensure that they won’t disappoint you. Hearing you question their behavior will make them stop and think.

It is possible that the behavior will continue. However, once they know your feelings, they may decide to moderate how they act–even if it’s only around you.  Of course, they may also decide not to change. Regardless of how they decide to respond, knowing that you acted can make all the difference in how you feel about yourself.

A Guiding Framework

In the past, I’ve personally struggled with deciding when I should act and when I should put my concerns aside. These questions form a framework that can help me work through this decision. How I decide to handle a given situation takes even more thought.