How to Speak Up and Take a Stand

You've listened, and now you have something important to say.

Posted Dec 03, 2016

Sakura/AdobeStock
Source: Sakura/AdobeStock

Many people, including me, have been posting on how to listen, accept and bring people together when emotions run high. As a leader, employee, consumer, family member and friend, there will be times you need to clearly state what you believe and what you want to happen next.

How you speak up will determine how seriously people take you. Your delivery could diminish the risk you face when you take a stand.

This post isn’t about mustering courage to speak up. The suggestions in this post will help you be heard when you declare your point of view.

Before choosing your words, determine how you want to show up. I learned this lesson from my boss in my first senior management position. I was complaining about the lack of support for my ideas when he took my hand, patted it and said, "Dear, you can quit fighting now. You've made it." I yanked my hand away. He added, "Fighting helped you get where you are. Now you need to influence. Instead of forcing people to see your way, can you find a way for them see what you see?"

The truth of his words hit me between the eyes. I had taken on the role of Warrior for what I believed was right for the company or my team. I now needed to be the Inspirer, Storyteller, or Revolutionary with a Vision that sparked hope and possibility.

Can you see yourself passionately painting a picture of a possible future before you offer your suggestions? If you inspire people to see what you see, they may pay attention to the steps you strongly think are needed to get there.

With a sense of how you want to show up, compose your statement by these rules:

  1. Speak for yourself. Use the word “I” when you state your point of view and suggestions for action. Own your opinion. Tell people what you believe. Claim your recommendations even if you want to credit others for their ideas you included.
  2. Summarize your backstory to show your reasoning. Highlight the story that led you to this moment, demonstrating why you think there is a problem or opportunity. Don’t include every detail. Don’t explain everything. You will lose those people who need you to get to the point quickly. When you practice, explain yourself, then cut your story in half.
  3. Describe the desired outcome. This is where you paint the picture of the best possible ending if your request is honored. Make sure it is a vision that will appeal to those you are speaking to, that it also relieves their pain and helps with their goals.
  4. Declare your expectation. To establish your credibility, you need to prove that you thought through the steps, possible pitfalls, and effects on everyone who could be affected by your request. Then you can state the actions necessary as something you expect to happen since the results are worthwhile. Be open to someone saying you missed something in your calculations. Their point can help you determine what’s next.
  5. Compromise only what you can live without. If people want to negotiate your request, accepting their offer could get closer to what you want. Remember that negotiations tend to be lose-lose scenarios. Be sure you will wake up tomorrow feeling okay about what you gave away.

If you get excited or frustrated when you are asking for what you need or stating your point of view, take a breath and silently count to five before continuing. In the pause, look to see if you are connecting with the people you are addressing. If not, ask if there is anything they don’t understand about what you are saying. Don’t ask for agreement; ask if they need clarity on your ideas or how your ideas will help.

Let them call you names. There will always be people who find fault with you, your voice, or your style. There will always be people who spend their time looking for what they can attack. Don't give in by mirroring their behaviors. Let them call you whatever they like.

Is it worth it to you to speak up?  If what you have to say is important, if your idea should be considered or a mistake needs to be recognized, then go for it. If you need to let someone know that you don't feel valued or that you would like to be considered for a project when you think you were overlooked, say so.

Preparation will help bolster your courage. Allies that encourage you and help you prepare are a plus. Then just before you enter the room, remind yourself that enough is enough to keep your spirit strong.

Most people regret what they didn’t say more than the what they did. Don’t hide or tell yourself that now is not the right time. Think it through and then clearly make your case for change.

For more tips, read The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs