Speaking up can be hard

A client I worked with recently came to me because she was having difficulties speaking up at work and expressing her expectations. She is one of many clients I’ve worked with on this, people who don’t want to be rude or self-promote or they don’t want to “rock the boat” (upset the status quo in a workplace). In the case of this particular client, she felt her lack of self-expression was making her work suffer.

This is a common problem, especially in Canada. Canadians are nice people. We’re known for our politeness. While this is a great asset, there’s also a downside. We’re not always as direct as we should be, or clearly express what we want. We may say, “If you could get that deliverable to me around 3:00 pm or even earlier that would be great.” When really what we need to say is, “I need it by 2:45 at the latest.” So when the deliverable comes in at 3:10, we consider it late and get frus-trated. The person who delivered it doesn’t understand why we’re upset. We told them “around 3:00.” They delivered “around 3:00”, when we really expected it earlier.

In the end, both sides are frustrated, even resentful. It shows up as snippy remarks, jokes that aren’t really that funny. The other person simply loses interest in listening to us. Instead, they start to ignore and resist us. They begin to think we may not know what we’re doing. Our reputation and self-esteem can suffer. Our projects can go out of whack, and that can lead to scope creep.

Don’t assume anything. Express your expectations clearly.

Let’s look at the other side. What happens when you express yourself decisively, giving the specif-ics about what you need? You explain the why, what, where, when and how to the other person. “Here’s what I need. Here’s why. Here’s where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. I need it on this date by 2:30 at the very latest.” You leave no room for misinterpretation. When you’re be-ing really clear, and providing concrete information, the other person can better understand the situation, and manage it more efficiently from their end. Both you and the other person avoid frus-tration and feel good about the end result.

Take corrective action when needed

So what if you think you clearly communicated what you need, but the other person still didn’t meet your expectations? Yes, it’s upsetting, perhaps even costly but laying blame won’t stop it from happening again. Instead, ask yourself did you clearly communicate what you expected within the parameters you gave them? Was your initial request shrouded in “Canadian niceness” and not with the directness it required? Incomplete communication can lead to operating on a mistaken assumption. Be clear and complete and get your deliverables met.

How can you manage this? Meet with the person again. Have a calm and respectful conversation. Own up to your part of the miscommunication, then clarify specifically what you need. Depending on the other person’s level of experience, you may have to provide some instructive tips, or modi-fy what you ask for and expect that person to deliver. Actively listen to what the other person has to say. Involve the person in the conversation so you know they understand what you’re asking them to do, and can – or cannot – carry through with it. The goal is to empower both of you.

The power of speaking up

When I work with clients who struggle with unexpressed expectation, in both their professional and personal lives, we talk about the underlying causes, the “old learning.” We look closely at what keeps them from speaking up, saying what they need clearly, and giving the specifics. The goal is to be more efficient and effective, and in doing so, to improve relationships and enjoy a stress free life.

In the case of the client I mentioned earlier, it made a big difference. After our sessions, she was able to turn her client relationship into a project worth almost $30K.

If you’d like to discover these kinds of insights and support for yourself in the area of “speaking up”, let’s talk.

Our initial 30-minute phone consultation is free

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