Change Starts With You and Me. It’s Time to Speak Up.

With the confirmation of Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice, this last week has been an emotional one for many. I like many I know watched and listened to the hearings and listened to new summaries with captive interest. During the weekend I was visiting family in Arizona. Every time I go home I see more evidence of the different political orientation from what I’m used to in the California Bay Area. I see it the most with the political differences of the family I visit. Often I stay quiet and listen, curious. In the past I choose not to speak up, deciding that there wasn’t a point. It won’t change anything.

While waiting for the final vote, I took my godfather to see A Star is Born. There is a scene that stirred me. It’s when Jackson sais to Ally, "Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that's a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you'll never know. That's just the truth. And there's one reason we're supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don't apologize, and you don't worry about why they're listening, or how long they're going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.” I realized then that we all have something to say. How often do we say it? Say it without having an agenda, something to prove, or something to sell. To speak, to share ourselves, and be seen.

So when the announcement came that Kavanaugh was confirmed I spoke to my family. I will choose to continue to speak. I believe we must speak. I ask that you do the same. And as a leader you make space for others to speak.

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

While at the gym conquering interval hill climbs on the bike, I often listen to podcasts. This week I listened to On Being with Krista Trippet as she spoke about the importance of Americans being in conversation at this time.  Krista spoke of having conversations with others. Of stepping outside of our bubbles and daily routines to meet others with different opinions. She joked that since having conversations with our families members can often be the most challenging maybe we should swap family members. I actually have another point of view, different but the same. I think the conversation starts with ourselves.

I ultimately learned about Kavanaugh by seeing posts at the top of my Facebook feed. They all spoke of the rage, anger, and disbelief people where feeling. I saw each post as a bid for connection and action. It had me wonder how much we are in conversation with ourselves, able to completely hold the emotion that comes up. Able to pinpoint the values that have been crossed. Able to accept the parts of us and the stories in our past that we hide as Ford and Kavanaugh did.

The conversation starts with us choosing to not hide and avoid our own stories of shame and guilt, to not hide our truths that we are scared to share. For each of us to have compassion and forgiveness with ourselves for the pieces of us and our past we hide. Each choosing to speak up, to take a risk and hide no longer. It 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.

Kim-ElishaAgency, Create & Navigate Change, Lead Smarter, Personal Musings