Speaking Truth to Power

Guest post by Scott Weiss:

There’s a crisis of trust in this country. You can see it everywhere you look: business, politics, financial Institutions…somewhere along the way authentic communication became a thing of the past. In recent times, transparency, vulnerability, and empathy in the workplace have been lost. It’s for this reason I’ve made it my life’s mission to shine the light on authentic communication both in the workplace and elsewhere.

In researching for my book, DARE, I came across great articles about speaking truth to leaders, and the reasons leaders need their followers to challenge them.

In corporate cultures, it’s not often encouraged to challenge authority. I believe that is due to what many deem “the boss effect”, which is the higher up one goes, the less truth they hear, the more distorted their reality, and the more difficult it is for people to speak openly to them.

The Roles We Play

Leaders and followers are not personality types, but roles we all play in corporations, organizations, and in personal relationships. The distinction is that we perceive power differently in hierarchical organizations than in other types of relationships.

In business situations, employees are often concerned about their roles and the importance of their thoughts, many times worried that telling their truth could affect future promotion or retention within the organization. But, again, research shows the far more prevalent cause is fear of losing favor with the leader.

The Courage To Lead

The courage to speak truth to power is unfortunately more uncommon than most would prefer. Every now and again, a great CEO or leader will come along and we will fawn over their ability to listen to their colleagues, be innovative though leadership, and courteous and authentic in all scenarios. But for now, we face this crisis of trust and uncertainty within our leadership.

To be honest and authentic with yourself is to guarantee your success within your own goals. We live amongst cover-ups, ethics violations, and deception on all levels. The timing is critical to find the dare within you to “speak truth to power.” This is an important goal in building strength that all of us need to be our best with others, and also appropriately value ourselves.

Putting Thoughts To Action

When you decide to begin speaking the truth to the power in your world, there are several things to keep in mind. If it has been a while since the leader was confronted, it’s reasonable to expect denial. And it’s not just the leader who can be in denial—how often do we let ourselves get carried away with anger, stress, or fear. There are so many things that could go wrong, it’s important to note several things that will make the process more effective for both parties.

Frame your concerns in terms of what is at stake for the leader and company. Sometimes it is easiest to communicate based on what “we” think and what is best for “us”—it can be a powerful communication tool to frame the conversation around what your suggestion can do for the leader or for the company, specifically. In fact, in both business and personal scenarios, considering the other person first, and putting their needs in the forefront can almost always guarantee a better ear for your point of view.

You’ll also want to make sure you reconfirm your support for the leader/company during your communication. It’s always important to be self-aware, and aware of what others may be thinking or feeling. Reconfirming the reasons for the communication can help both parties see eye-to-eye. If you are speaking with your boss about company strategy, consider using phrases that reiterate the why in your suggestions, and use “us” to underscore the fact that we’re all in this together.

Work on clarity for what you want the outcome to be. Going into a conversation knowing what you hope for is half the battle. Often times, I tell myself, and coach others, to go ahead and state what you hope for up front. That removes ambiguity in the conversation about your agenda. Or as we’ve all heard before—and it’s true—just ask. All they can say is no. And in the process of the conversation, I hope you find that not only is your leader enlightened, but that you feel capable/ready/inspired to work towards confident, trustworthy, and authentic communication.

Scott Weiss is is one of the founding members of Turner Broadcasting, CEO of Speakeasy (www.speakeasyinc.com), and author of the upcoming book DARE.