by Sara Luther
with all due respect...

We need to learn to speak up and converse differently

Full disclosure: I’m slightly dyslexic.

The word itself takes me four attempts to get “right-enough” that spell check knows what I’m trying to write.  It’s frustrating to get the words written down when I need to pause and repeat it in my head and try and sound it out.  It interrupts the flow from my heart to my head to my capacity to share.  I don’t like writing.

I love conversation.  I have a simple vocabulary that is infused with metaphors and analogies that weave together a story or position that is an offering for dialogue. I love the ability to play with tone, inflection (I first wrote infection) of voice, and body language that amplifies what is being spoken about and our ability to convey and connect with others.

However, one of the prevailing themes that emerges from the work of Forwardworking is that there is a mastery of silence.  We’ve gotten really good at feeling a lot, and saying nothing.  We tip toe around issues and sidestep conflict.  There are lots of reasons for this.  Workplaces are spaces of rank and power that intentionally or unintentionally create a breeding ground of barriers that inhibit people from speaking up. And when we do speak up, we mince our words and shy away from saying what we really feel, need or want to share.

How do we choose words that honour our values and experiences? How can we speak up in a tough environment that prefers we stay zipped up? I have a simple tool that I use called “notice and name”.  The first part requires you to feel into to what happens in your body when something happens that rattles you – the colleague that rolls their eyes, the boss that interrupts you when you’re trying to speak, the client that criticizes you and not the work.  Your insides viscerally respond, and we need to listen.

But, why? – Because, when we don’t, we send a message to ourselves that the source of that reaction is not worth paying attention to.  Yet, the feeling will not dissipate, it will fester within us.

When we can recognize our reactions, we now have the chance to align with what we believe and can therefore practice naming it.  Give it language, give it voice. It might go something like this:

“hey, I’m noticing I got caught off guard by what you just said/did. Can you give me some more context?” It might look like “wow, I’m surprised you just said that.  I need a minute to collect my thoughts.”  It might just be “wow, I don’t know what to say.”  In all cases, you opened your mouth and interrupted the anticipated silence.

This is super powerful as a practice and one of my favourite tools to use in group professional development sessions.  Considering I’d rather us be practicing it, that than you just reading about it, I’ll stop here for now. I look forward to hearing from you if you’d like to learn more about this.