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“Speak Up or Shut Up”

I woke up this morning watching BBC World News covering an interesting study on how a University in the UK are training medical staff on how to ‘Speak Up’ if you asked to do something that you believe is wrong or a worst case scenario, life threatening by someone who is more senior by appointment or experience to you.

In short, these junior doctors where learning to become more confident, assertive and developing their personal style to justify their reasons why they disagree. Interestingly, they were not only getting feedback from medical experts, but also a senior aircraft pilot (Captain). Now if you are wondering why a pilot was advising a medical team, then I would advise you to read a great article Michael Wheeler wrote last year on the Asiana Airlines accident in San Francisco last summer, when a co –pilot was afraid to warn his Captain about a low – speed landing.

The Cost of Being Quiet

Everyday we are faced with people in the work place that make serious errors of judgement that can either affect your business or cost lives. Commonly, it is assumed, that these senior decision makers who are held accountable for mistakes, lack the knowledge or skills to do their jobs. However, they all have the same vulnerabilities that all of us suffer at some stage and that is we are just human!

“Human Error cannot be eliminated as it is an essential facet of the human condition”

In this article I don’t want to go into the cognitive factors that may cause these errors or methods on how to mitigate these mistakes, but more on how to “Speak Up rather than to “Shut Up”.

My experience across the Middle East has shown that not everybody has the confidence to be able to “Speak Up”. There are many reasons for this, ranging from fear of loosing their job, relationships, gender, age, or cultural differences. So I just wanted to share some advice that I give to individuals who fit into this range or just lack assertiveness:

Safety First – Respectively clarify why you disagree on a decision and ensure you can back it up with clear facts.

Stick to the Facts – At times your bosses thinking may be incorrect because key information is missing. You may be the only one savvy to the missing information that you may of gathered from your channels and networks.

Handle it with Respect – None of us like to be embarrassed in front of our peers therefore be tactful and lower the potential of defensiveness by holding this conversation in private – it maybe just asking can I have a minute in private.

Don’t wait Too Long – If you wait too long to speak up, you will be irritated, perhaps angry, which will affect your cognitive thinking and clarity in your thoughts.

Acknowledge their Authority/Position – Let the boss know that you respect their position and expertise…..however, you have something very valuable/critical to suggest.

Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood –Really engage your listening skills to make sure you are not making an assumption of something and you have your facts right.

Know When to Let Go – Don’t keep bringing up an idea/issue once its clear it won’t be accepted.

As mentioned in the last bullet point, there is always the possibility that things are not as they seem and maybe affected by your own paradigms.

“The world is not how it is, it is how we see it”.

Finally you may be limited to privy information or sometimes not allowed to know. Try and articulate you point clearly but ensure that you leave room to know that you are the one who is mistaken and able to take feedback candidly.

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