Speak to be known
Many of us were taught as children to be seen and not heard. Don’t say something unless you have something to add. And those who did try to speak up were not heard or told to be quiet, or another favorite don’t rock the boat. We grow up in a society where conversation, debate, and dialogue for understanding isn’t the norm. So many of us, especially women learn to be quiet. This silence is costing us on a daily basis. Not just nationally but personally. Each day we see things and don’t speak up, just accepting because it is a norm or for our own training and fear.
It’s time for us to speak and to share. To change the norms around us. To learn to hear each other’s stories, to have compassion for the trauma we each hide inside, and to come to understand and accept what’s molded each of us. The goal of conversation doesn’t have to be right or wrong, but a collaboration of learning and discovery. Learning to respect each person’s opinion, listen and maybe just maybe become flexible in our opinions. Coming to accept others even if we don’t agree.
So what if we followed Jackson’s advice- "unless you get out and you try to do it you’ll never know."
The conversation starts with us
Invite others into conversation
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.
Late Saturday night when pictures of Kavanaugh flashed on the tv screen, my family spoke about how absurd this whole mess was and their distaste for the political system. I was surprised that they felt the same disappointment I was feeling. In the back of my mind, I was reeling under the absurdity and disrespect of the process. I couldn’t believe this was the process being used to confirm one of our highest Judicial positions. It didn’t display the best of our humanity and respect for different truths.
Then I realized that my family was having the same emotions I did, yet for different reasons. They were speaking for Kavanaugh and his confirmation. Instead of moving against, I moved towards. It was crystal clear to me that we both wanted the same thing, our paths to it were different. Once the news came in that Kavanaugh was confirmed, my family was surprised by how upset I was. As I don’t normally speak politics with my family I think they were surprised by my reaction and that I spoke up. I spoke passionately about my concerns that the last weeks haven’t been an honoring of humanity, it’s been he said she said, and a political red vs. blue showdown. My family talked about the law of innocent until proven guilty. I agreed and they were surprised. They started to listen to my concerns that this wasn’t fair to anyone involved, that the politics of a speedy confirmation did disjustice to everyone. In the end, I shared that my primary concern was of trust. Can I trust someone who is dishonest? I’d rather someone be honest and take responsibility than sidestep the truth for shame and guilt. My family agreed.
My conversation with my family didn’t change any opinions. They aren’t all of a sudden going to dislike Kavanaugh or change their political beliefs. It did something more important. They were heard. Their needs and pain. I was heard. My needs and pain. So instead of going to bed feeling alone, I felt a sparkle of hope and understanding. It demonstrated to me what can happen in a space of curiosity with the intent for understanding versus proving. A space that removes finger pointing, blame, and shame.
Make room for others to speak
As Leaders, we have a responsibility to speak up and create room for others to speak. One of the reasons change initiatives fail time and time again is because people don’t speak up. The more space we make to hear different arguments, to help our teams voice not their opinions, ideas, and concerns to enter into a deeper conversation we create the room for a win-win approach. Often our teams just want to be heard to be understood, even if we don’t agree. Hearing others, we know more and assume less, able to provide more information and insight into the whys and decisions being made.
If anything, being in Arizona helped me realize how we are different yet the same. What’s important is no matter gender, sexual identification, race, etc. that our ideas, thoughts, and contributions be valued equally. We each believe what we say is true. Until these truths are spoken in meetings and uncovered they stay hidden and corrupt the very vision we work towards. I once offered feedback to a VP at PayPal to observe themselves in meetings for the next week and discover what their talk/listen ratio is and their advocacy/inquiry ratio was. It opened their eyes. I invite you to do the same. Here are some questions for you to consider.
- As a leader how much do you speak? When do you speak?
- How often do you invite others to share their thoughts?
- How often do you ask others to tell you more?
- Based on your goal for a meeting, brainstorm what you would like your advocacy/inquiry ratio to be.
Practice compassion and understanding
We teach people how to treat us. For example, if a leader emails at any time day or night we get used to being able to connect to them any time and often put expectations on ourselves that we should also be available day or night. If the leader changes their behavior and decides not to be available on the weekends and late evenings it will impact their team. At first, the team may be happy but as they come to realize they don’t have 24 x 7 access, they may need to change the way they interacted with the leader and how long they have to wait for approvals.
The same is true as we choose to speak up and explore having different conversations with each other. Speaking up is a practice. Being brave and having courage is a practice. Sometimes we’ll get it right. Sometimes we may share more than comfortable and feel sensitive after. Sometimes we may be more candid than others expect and step on some toes. As we learn a new way of being there will be growing pains. When we embark on change, we don’t always know what we are capable of.
Old beliefs must come up, be looked at and let go. When talking about Ford and Kavanaugh, one of the woman in my family stated "that’s how it" is in reference to women and men at parties, drinking and what can happen. I was quiet. Inside I screamed no. Then a quiet voice said, that’s how it’s been. It’s what the generations before me were taught. I can honestly say there is still a part of me that believes that. Cultural programming and norms take time to change. I realized this is not how it will be. What’s acceptable is changing.
The best metaphor I can think of is that of a construction site and the sign Under Construction. Put on your hard hat and know there will be dust. Let’s try some new things and practice compassion along the way. It’s time for each of us take back our power, our worth, our responsibility. To treat each other with the utmost dignity of humanity.
About the Author
Kim-Elisha Proctor is an Executive Coach, teacher, and writer. For over 15 years, she has worked with companies at all stages of growth and understands the complexity of organizations and leadership that is needed for success. Whether one-on-one coaching, with groups or delivering leadership development programs, her passion is the same: to support leaders to enhance their performance, impact, purpose & well-being to create communities they long to belong to.