There’s a repression that still runs deep in the way we communicate, even in our relatively open and liberated age. We fear that what we think doesn’t matter; that we are less right or less valuable in our opinions than the other people around us.
But this isn’t humility. It isn’t a careful, diplomatic silence that will advance our careers. It’s something that will hold you back, in work and in finding satisfaction in your own life.
Oh Captain My Captain
Many of the people we most admire as leaders are the most outspoken. Whether it’s a real life figure such as Abraham Lincoln or Steve Jobs, or a fictional leader like the plethora of upstanding captains who fill pop culture, those who use communication to stand up and are counted draw our praise.
Sharing your views with the world, even with your co-workers, can be daunting. But it can also show people that you have integrity, that you stand for something, that you are a leader worth getting behind.
One of the most valuable lessons to come from recent changes in the publishing industry is the importance of attention. Like musicians before them, authors at first feared that e-books piracy would damage their sales and so their income.
The reality is that the opposite is true. Independent authors have found that giving books away for free is one of the best ways to increase their audience and so their income. Award winning author Neil Gaiman saw a sharp rise in sales in Russia after his books were pirated there.
The broader lesson is clear – few things are as damaging as obscurity. Even if your idea is not followed, even if people disagree with your opinions, someone will value what you have to say and come back to you in future. Make your voice heard or have it forever ignored.
Stopping The Rot
Hiding your opinion doesn’t just hold you back, it can be bad for others and for your relationships with them.
We often hold back from offering our opinions because we fear that they will hurt others’ feelings. Perhaps you need to give negative feedback to someone you manage. Perhaps a project isn’t going ahead and you dread telling the team who’ve poured their hearts into planning for it.
But putting it off won’t make the news any easier to hear. In fact it will make it harder, allowing false hope to grow and then be crushed, or fostering an uneasy atmosphere through the discrepancy between what you say and what you know. Walking on eggshells does no-one any favors, so be tactful in speaking up on difficult subjects, but also be prompt.
Think About Your Words
This isn’t to say that you should just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. You should plan what you intend to say, where possible grounding your opinions in a sound basis of facts and trial and error.
Nor should you make the talking all about you. Self-centeredness, trying to make every word and every situation about you and your achievements, is a toxic sort of leadership that’s ultimately self-defeating. You should speak up, but that should be as much to support others in their opinions as to put forward your own, and far more to sing the praises of others than to flaunt your own worth.
As long as you think about what your communication, as long as you balance your own interest with that of others, then there is no reason to hold back your opinions. Be loud, be proud, be yourself, and watch as others follow.
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