What Keeps Me From Speaking Up?

(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)

Years ago I served on my church’s Board of Elders alongside nine other laymen and the two pastors. Every other week we would sit in one of the meeting rooms of the church and discuss the issues facing it and its members, working to find ways around those problems.

At one point somewhere along the line one of the pastors said something like “Chris, you don’t often speak up in those meetings, but when you do I value your input tremendously.” It was true. I usually sat and followed the conversations as they flowed among the other members, waiting for a good opportunity to offer my own thoughts.

I’m a bit more verbose in client meetings, readily sharing my opinions and recommendations. Still, though, I usually wait until others who have strong opinions and points of view have hashed them out. It’s not that I don’t have similarly strong opinions, but these conversations tend to be circular, as two sides air their perspectives and grievances. There’s a lot of throat-clearing and making sure you’ve gone on the record as saying this, that or the other thing.

No, where I like to finally join the fray is in the last quarter of the discussion. Some common ground has been ironed out, some points disagreed on and possibly rejected. Now we’re ready to get down to brass tacks and decide what to do with the facts and opinions everyone has been sharing. We’re ready for action items.

My favorite contribution to meetings is some variation on “OK, this is all well and good, but what are we going to do about it?” Suddenly the conversation turns from a theoretical one to a practical one, involving a number of steps to take us down a defined path. Not that the Socratic discussion before wasn’t good, but this is where we’re going to get serious about the issue at hand.

There are other ways of speaking up, of course. My career is filled with emails that have been sent because I’ve got some idea or thought to share and I just can’t help myself any longer. There’s about a 50/50 success rate there, which isn’t bad.

Mostly when I think about “speaking up,” I think about raising my physical voice. It’s something I might seem hesitant to do, but that’s just because I’m waiting to get to the good part.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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