Why Don’t We Speak Up?

“What do you think, Zoë?”

Holy crap. This was it. I had to say something.

My colleague had just thrown me a bone in a meeting. He knew I was peeved about the contract and was quietly stewing in frustration.

And not saying anything.

It was only when he set me up directly that I sat up, and spoke up.

It wasn’t easy. I got emotional. Apparently I cared more than I thought. And I felt better for it afterwards.

Speaking the truth always feels better. Eventually.

So why don’t we speak up? Why do we keep quiet when we’ve got something to say? An opinion to express, an idea to share, a criticism to make, a concern to raise?

Here are some reasons I’ve found in my own life, and work with my clients:

We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

We don’t want to rock the boat and risk our status in the group.

We’re afraid we’ll go past the point of no return and the unknown looms as a menacing void.

We’re afraid of the can of worms that might be unleashed, and we don’t like conflict.

We’re afraid we’ll be judged. Or rejected. Or hurt. Or dismissed.

In essence, we’re afraid of feeling bad.

So we shut down, shut up, and shrink.

And that’s the worst kind of feeling bad.

When we don’t speak our truth, our soul wilts a little, our heart grows a little more brittle, and the emotional pot goes on simmer.

Not speaking our truth is the worst kind of personal damage we can do to ourselves. It’s the deepest form of pain. So we numb it with alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, overwork, over exercise, food, or any other kind of distraction that keeps us from feeling into the depths of our inner world.

But when we do speak up, when we share what is going on in our heart, on the other side of the unknown mess that may ensue, we have a chance of a bigger horizon. We show ourselves and others that we matter, that we are worthy, that the stories we tell ourselves, even if they are wrong, matter. They matter because they help us connect better to ourselves and each other.

In Rising Strong, Brené Brown says, “I believe that vulnerability – the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome – is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.”

The equation looks like this:

Truth – – – MESS – – – Feel better.

Speaking up is a leadership moment that matters. It can rattle cages, upset the apple cart, ruffle feathers, and every other metaphor for sh*tstorm, but speaking the truth is the song of the soul.

What helps is having a tether to our values and the willingness to walk in integrity. I have an intention that I want to model what I teach others, to embody what I know to be true, no matter how challenging.

So when my colleague looked to me and asked, “What do you think?” I took a deep breath, and spoke.

What calls you to speak the truth? What keeps you from speaking it? And what, if anything, will you change?

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