Six Rules To Avoid Saying Something You’ll Regret

Did I speak up too early?

I sat gloomily in the hall, fidgeting restlessly with my facilitator pen pointer as we all wait for the first person to speak. The local HR Director look up with a glance across the room, shifted uncomfortably in his chair, then look at the visiting Board of Directors from the company Group Headquarter in Europe. 

Do any of you have anything to say?“. Erik, the Group Executive CEO asked again in a mild voice, obviously trying to hide his growing agitation. No one moved. Pin drop silence that couldn’t even pick a few hesitant and dashing glances across the room. 

“What will you want me to talk about? What question will you want to ask me?“. Erik continued, his voice now beginning to betray his growing frustration and impatience.

Feeling it was my responsibility as session facilitator to ‘manage’ the situation, not knowing it was my own inability to endure the silence, I stood up. I gestured to be given the microphone. I then began to speak. “Erik, thanks for the opportunity …”

Each time I look back at the session, I cannot but question myself, ‘why in the world did I speak up when others kept mute, did I speak up too early?’

Between espouse corporate steers and common sense

Back then, the reason was clear to me, business leaders had repeatedly said, feel free to speak up.

  1. I felt I had the licence and leaders encouragement to speak up.
  2. I believe I was doing it for the good of the business and the team.
  3. And I wanted to encourage others to speak up so we can have robust conversation to help generate the right inputs and engagement.

“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” 
― Winston S. Churchill

But why did others withheld using the same freedom to speak? It is usually believed and gossiped that employees get their ‘fingers burnt’ when they speak up, especially where their superiors are present. And even if superiors are not present, the fear that a colleague could give them away, even for saying what is right. But why should anyone be bullied or harassed for speaking after being encouraged to do so.

The Guardian online newspaper investigated and reported on the prevalence of bullying at work for a lot of different reasons. It stated that it’s a silent epidemic that is subtle, political and one that leaves employees unsure of where they stand, either to follow management’s espouse policy of speaking up, or use common sense and follow the in-use but unwritten management responses.

During the session I reported earlier, I may have spoken up too early or I may just have demonstrated the right level of confidence. I did not get any feedback, good or bad. But, I did not also feel it put any wind to my sail. I however learnt some good lessons from that event which I will chronicle later. But first, let me share the Four Simple Rules To Avoid Saying Something You’ll Regret that was written by Judith Humphrey (founder of The Humphrey Group) for the FastCompany and additional summarized two. One as shared by Susan Cain in an interview with Harvard Business review, and a second by Fran Hauser (author of The Myth of the Nice Girl) as shared on Oprah.

Speaking spontaneously encourages candor, but sometimes it’s at the expense of tact.

  1. Speak well of your company
  2. Show respect for your Boss
  3. Speak well of your colleagues
  4. Show Self-respect
  5. Show gratitude not weakness; replace, “I’m sorry,” with, “Thank you.” (summary from Fran, overcoming women’s more obvious weakness)
  6. Speak, its already better baked than an extrovert’s pie, stop the thought over processing (summary from Susan, overcoming an introvert’s inertia)

Finally, when you realize you have made a mistake in what you said, how you said it or when you said it, own up; make amends and do the right thing. Your error may even be that you did not speak up as much as you should! It’s a life of balance. Just as Pope Francis said in the handling of sexual abuse scandal in Chile, “I have made grave mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Looking back, I am happy I stepped out and said what I said during the meeting I referred to at the start of this write up, which I facilitated. And that is without concern on the outcome and its impact on my career. However, remember that saying something you’ll regret can have more disastrous impact on lives and careers, either of your self or others.

If you need more speaking quotes, check out the following.

Photograph Credit: BlendImages/Alamy through TheGuardian (Guardian News and Media Limited)

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