The Character Movement

How to Speak Up and Be Heard

Speaking up about what matters to you almost always requires a lot of courage. Unfortunately, speaking up does not always mean that you will be heard – it can be challenging and often times messy. It’s entirely possible that those who we hope hear us most are either unresponsive or uninterested in hearing what we have to say. It’s also possible that, despite our best intentions, our communication will miss the mark.

As advocates for change, when we choose to speak up, it is our responsibility to get our message out both clearly and respectfully – and to ensure that it does not just fall on deaf ears. When we choose to speak up about an issue that matters to us there are three important questions we should ask ourselves:

1. What is my true motive?

Are you truly using this as an opportunity to make a difference? Are you speaking up to challenge the thinking about an issue and provoke constructive conversation, or are you just aiming to prove your point? If you are authentically interested in other points of view on the subject, open to learning and perhaps even changing your mind about the subject at hand, chances are your challenge will make a difference for everyone involved. If, however, you will only be satisfied when your thinking is validated, proceed with caution.

The key is to first make sure you are clear about your intention and purpose for speaking up. Are you standing up for something you believe in or trying to open up a larger dialogue? While both can be cause for speaking out, it’s important to know which you most identify with. If you are looking to create a productive discussion, it’s equally important to consider where others are.

2. What is the level of trust in this relationship?

Even the best of intentions can be misread when trust is weak. Choose your time, place and method according to the level of trust present. For example, publicly challenging someone’s thinking in front of their boss, when they don’t trust you is not likely to go well. In general, the greater the degree of trust among those involved, the more likely a fruitful conversation will happen. Be honest with yourself about the current state of the relationship so that you can care for both the relationship and the outcome in the process. This is essential if you are committed to creating a mutually beneficial discussion.

3. Am I seeking perfection?

Communication is inherently messy. A clue that you are seeking perfection is when you find yourself over-analyzing by playing the same conversation over and over in your mind, hoping you will find the way to say things just right. It’s in these moments that you create unrealistic expectations for your conversation, convincing yourself that if you pick just the right words, you will win others over. The imagination of a storybook cathartic moment can oftentimes impede any further conversation or relational outcome from an important conversation by leading us to put it off indefinitely. While the words you pick are important, your motive, relationships and desire to grow must drive the conversation.

While you should be intentional in selecting your words it’s important to remember that if your motives are pure and there is trust in the relationships the words you use don’t matter as much as the idea you are conveying. The key is to simply speak up and allow your communication to be guided by your intentions and purpose. Sure, speaking up may be risky. It may require courage to face your fear or step out of your comfort zone, but don’t let that stop you – speak up and leave an impact.


This week’s blog post is shared with permission from Random Acts of Leadership. Susan Mazza serves leaders and their organizations as a Leadership Coach, Change Agent and Motivational Speaker. Named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America in 2013 and 2015, and a top 100 Leadership Speaker in Leadership Inc., Susan is a recognized thought leader and leadership expert.

More on Susan Mazza’s leadership development, books and blogs can be found by visiting her website.

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