Develop courage to speak your mind | Daily News


Develop courage to speak your mind

As a leader you may sometimes come across with groups that are very dysfunctional. If you search a little bit further, you’ll notice that one of the main reasons for this condition is that people don’t feel able to ‘speak their minds’ in order to resolve problems between members of the group. For such a situation, you may have to put a lot of effort into finding an appropriate venue that would help to create the right environment for people to open up and share their thoughts with each other.

Although the physical environment is important, the crucial factor that determines whether people open up to each other by speaking their minds is the environment created by members of the group. You learnt earlier that having and showing a genuine interest in a person helps you to understand that person: this approach is a good starting point in encouraging members of any group, especially a dysfunctional group, to work better together.

Let us try to learn how to develop the courage to speak your mind as a complement to showing a genuine interest in people and enhancing your skills in engaging people in one-to-one and group situations.

Standing out from the crowd

You have probably noticed when one person, often the most senior manager or strongest character in the group, proposes a decision and everyone goes along with it. This behaviour often leads to the condition known as groupthink.

Be aware of groupthink, where the thinking behind decisions goes unchallenged in a group, leading to poor-quality decision-making. Overcoming groupthink requires someone to have the courage to stand out from the crowd and speak his mind, to propose an alternative solution or challenge the proposed view.

Take the lead in speaking your mind in situations in which you experience groupthink, because by doing so you can: Assist the group to make more robust decisions by: (a) Questioning the validity of proposals already put forward, (b) Encouraging your colleagues to critique constructively, instead of automatically accepting your suggestions and proposals.

Show leadership by being a role model and attempting to influence the rest of the group to follow your lead by sharing their views and critiquing the quality of thinking and decision-making.

Challenge group norms of behaviour such as not questioning each other’s views and encourage members of the group to strive continuously to improve how they work as a team. Remember - the people who report to you expect you to be bold and lead with conviction.

You’re more likely to be bold and speak your mind when you’re surer of yourself, when you’re confident that the thoughts you want to express are relevant and valid.

Being clear about the purpose of your job, the objectives and results that senior management expects you and your team to achieve, together with having a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of your department and/or organisation, enables you to be bolder and speak your mind. This clarity helps generate confidence that the points that you want to make and the questions you want to ask are relevant.

You probably perceive that ‘standing out from the crowd’ by expressing your thoughts -especially if they’re different to the group’s view or involve critiquing the views of a senior manager or strong character - would put you in a difficult situation. We discovered in an earlier instalment a technique to help you to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable and willing to address difficult situations.

Remaining aware of being dishonest

As a leader, you wouldn’t deliberately intend to be dishonest, but you may well have difficulty always being 100 % honest and saying what you really think!

Complete the following exercise to check whether you do sometimes hold back. Take a few minutes to reflect on situations in which you held back from expressing your honest views or opinions with an individual or group.

The situation may be one that you experienced at work or in your personal life.

Buy a notebook and divide the page into three columns. In the first column, write a brief description of the situation in which you held back from expressing your true or honest thoughts. In the second column, describe the thoughts that you had at the time. In the third column describe your reasons for not sharing your thoughts. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for other similar situations that you identified.


You may hold back from sharing what you really think for two main reasons: you want to avoid being embarrassed or threatened, or you don’t want another person to feel embarrassed or threatened.

I suspect that many people don’t want to embarrass a person because they care for them. Read the true story in the later sidebar ‘You’re behind time!’ as an example of a group not being able to criticise the behaviour of a colleague they cared for.

You may feel threatened in a situation in which you say what you really think about a work colleague’s performance, behaviour or attitude to work, and the person reacts angrily, verbally or emotionally towards you. Colleagues may feel threatened by you sharing your thoughts if they then have to do something that they don’t want to do, your comments reflect badly on them or they feel that their job security is under threat.

Ask searching questions

Although certain occasions exist when saying what you really think isn’t appropriate or worthwhile - such as when a work colleague makes a rare minor mistake on a task - you don’t want to allow standards of work and behaviour to slip by holding back. You can find tips to help in the

Perhaps, you’ve been discouraged from asking people searching questions, especially personal ones, because your parents or guardians think that doing so is impolite. You may have difficulty changing behaviour that you picked up when you were a child. The fact is, however, that as a team leader you’re sometimes going to have to ask difficult questions.

In general, you’re going to have one of three main aims when asking searching questions of work colleagues: (a) To engage people with their own thoughts, by questioning the meaning of words, phrases and language that your colleagues are using in order to: (1) Enable them to think things through, (2) Clarify their thinking on the topic or subject being discussed, (3) Prompt them to question or test the assumptions that underpin their point of view.

(b) To gather more information to enable: (1) You to better understand people’s points of view, (b) You and your team to improve your understanding of the topic, subject or problem being discussed, (3) To encourage and promote the activity of asking searching questions as a valuable activity in decision-making.

(c) Practise your ability to ask searching questions by: (1) Being curious. Rekindle the hunger to understand and seek the truth that young children have, as demonstrated by them asking questions such as ‘Why?’ (2) Keeping the conversation going. A good question can be a statement such as ‘Tell me about or ‘Talk me through.

(d) Use open questions. People feel obliged to give you more information about the topic or subject you’re discussing when you ask a question starting with what, why, where, when, how, who or which.

(e) Become comfortable with silence. Most people don’t like silence when they’ve asked a question, and ask another question or answer their own question within 20—30 seconds of asking the first question. Practise being silent for up to 90 seconds after you’ve asked a really good question.

Building up, not putting down. Always have the positive intention of building up people instead of ridiculing, undermining, making them look foolish and so on in asking searching questions. People respect you when you act with integrity.

(f) Remaining clear about your values or principles. You’re more likely to question and challenge others’ views and even unacceptable behaviour in a group when you’re clear about what’s important to you. We studied earlier how to find out and clarify your values.

(g) Rising to your biggest challenge. You may be the type of person who prefers to tackle the most difficult challenge straight away, or alternatively practise on less difficult situations or people first to progressively build your confidence. If you prefer the latter approach, start by asking searching questions of someone who’s more receptive to being questioned or having his views challenged in order to develop your skills in framing questions.

(h) Enhancing your ability to cope with potentially being embarrassed. You may sometimes ask an inappropriate question such as one for which you should already know the answer.

Inviting challenge

One of the best ways of encouraging work colleagues to become used to others asking difficult questions and challenging their views is to set an example by inviting others to question and challenge your own views.

Be a good role model for inviting challenge by: (a) Keeping an open mind to find the best solution to a problem. You may demonstrate this approach by admitting that you may not have the best suggestion or solution to the problem being considered, but that you want to get to the best solution.

Maintaining a calm composure and vulnerability to having your views or decisions questioned or challenged. You discourage colleagues from sharing their views with you when you criticise them for taking the initiative to do so. Praising colleagues who effectively question and challenge your views and decisions.


(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer. He could be contacted on [email protected])

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