I worked with a young woman this week who was feeling intimidated by her boss’s knowledge and expertise and bullied by professionals the boss uses and has a close relationship with. She said nothing at the time as she felt she did not have enough experience to challenge them although something in her gut said ‘this is not right.’ Now she has checked her facts, she knows she is right to speak up but now she is scared – how does she do this the right way? It could be a career limiting move.
For some of us standing our ground is scary. Being assertive in NZ can sometimes be misinterpreted as aggressive. If a stereotypical American was served cold soup they would call the waiter back and complain with the expectation they would return with a hot soup. A Kiwi would moan to the table but not tell the waiter and tell all their friends later how bad it was. This is so unhelpful as it does not give the service provider the chance to rectify the situation.
If you are a young, female and new to the business and your boss is older, male and hugely experienced the stakes are different again. I have also seen the reverse, when older white males feel under siege right now with the “pale, male, stale” label and are so frightened they may say the wrong thing so they say nothing.
When it comes to the world of work – how does it serve us to keep quiet?
In the event of being in the hot seat or in a situation where your boundaries have been crossed you are called to speak up. If you don’t the payback is that you might keep the peace – but at the expense of your integrity. Your conscience will continue to tap you on the shoulder until you listen and take action.
If your natural profile is to seek harmony, put relationships before tasks then you will want to ensure you handle this situation carefully.
If you are more task focus, and more extrovert then you may be prepared to speak up and possibly put the relationship at risk to get the job done.
So what could you say to be able to stand up, speak up, and be heard?
Start by asking questions can be a soft way to enter a conversation, warm yourself up, respect the relationship yet also be heard. You can also deflect a conversation by asking to refer to a document, a physical object of some sort related to the issue. For example, if someone is referring verbally to a budget then ask to see the spreadsheet, if it refers to a standard or law then ask to see a copy of that section or page. I work a lot around the building industry and there is nothing more relevant than doing a site inspection and looking at the building element, the plans or a photo of the object being referred to.
Here are some sentences starters to try:
Can you show me …
Can you tell me when/what ..
How does this affect …
What is the impact of …