You’re sitting in a meeting with your co-workers. Everyone is bouncing ideas back and forth. Some are great. Some are less than stellar. You have something to say. You have an idea that you are sure will take the team in the direction it needs to go. But, before you know it, the opportunity to say something has passed.
Why didn’t you speak up? Was there no time? Were too many people talking at once? Did you feel that nobody would listen? Did you second-guess the validity of your idea? Or were you just plain afraid?
Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of upsetting others? Fear of rejection?
Our fears are born of our perceptions – the story we tell ourselves about what MIGHT happen. I love Jack Canfield’s acronym for fear: Fantasized Experience Appearing Real. We tell ourselves a story about what might happen, then believe that story and let it dictate whether or not we speak up. The story includes what others will think, feel, and do.
In fact, we are so good at creating these stories, we do it subconsciously and our brain believes it’s true. The belief becomes the thought and produces actual feelings (fear), then we act, or don’t act, based on those feelings. Once we act, our thinking becomes a reality that reinforces what we originally thought.
A young woman I knew was so afraid that no one would listen to her, that she didn’t share any ideas. Her company was experiencing issues and they were looking for solutions. She never shared hers. She justified her decision by saying, “The boss will get mad if I try to share THIS solution, and I need this job.” Down the road, the problem escalated and resulted in a budgetary crisis. In the meeting to let her know she was one of the employees being laid off, her boss said he had desperately been searching for solutions, but couldn’t come up with any.
Who knows? Her idea may have been the solution he was looking for. However, in not sharing her idea, she ended up without a job – the very thing she was afraid of.
Here are a few simple tips to combat the fear of speaking up.
Identify the story you are telling yourself. Finish this sentence as many times as you can: I’m afraid to speak up because _______________. The more completions, the more likely you will be to uncover and address the real reason for your fear. Knowing this reason will arm you with the information you need to change your thoughts.
Watch out for “proof”. The brain loves evidence, and is a master at making up evidence to support the story it has created. Beware of making assumptions or projections about what might happen. Instead, look for real, verifiable facts. What are the actual facts you know? What is it you don’t know? If there are no supporting facts for your assumptions, then they remain just that…assumptions. And we’ve all heard what happens when you assume.
Listen and link. Will speaking up help or hinder the situation? Assess whether the potential benefits of speaking up are greater than those of keeping silent. Essentially, determine the positive and negative costs for sharing your idea(s). If there is no real evidence to support your fears, then prepare to share. To do this successfully, consider first what are the interests of the other person or people? How can you link those with the idea or input you have? Find the common purpose that will benefit you both, then speak up!
If you’re still leery of whether your idea will be well received at that moment, try waiting a couple of beats and fully think through your contribution before speaking up. Rather than share something that’s half-baked, take a moment to fully articulate your thought in your head. And if you realize when you’re ready to chime in that the conversation has moved on, you still have two options: make a note of your idea (and share it over email or after the meeting, if relevant), or you can say, “I’d like to move back to an earlier point...”
Not every idea you have will be a hit, but that’s okay. The only way you’re going to make contributions that make a difference is to speak up in the first place. So, look at speaking in meetings as a skill you’d like to improve and start piping up.
If the thought of speaking up at meetings, on conference calls or in social gatherings is causing you anxiety, contact Joy today!