In 1955, the American Friends Service Committee used a phrase, Speaking Truth To Power, which conveys a quite useful concept. The idea is that it’s difficult to talk about harsh truths to those who have power over you, especially if that might be perceived as criticism.
This is useful in the workplace as well. I often see people who have something important to say to their boss or other authority figure, but hold off for years fearing harsh consequences. Perhaps this is something you struggle with.
It’s not just about whipping up your courage to speak. There’s other important parts of the picture as well. So here’s a set of steps which can help you get through this tough situation.
- Is it true? This can be a tough question to answer, because your frame of reference may be so different from the other person’s. So what you want to establish is how and why your message is true in the other’s world. Without this, it’s just your opinion. Valid, perhaps, but less impactful than the truth.
- Is it important? Again, your task is to establish how and why your message is important in the other person’s frame of reference. You may have to do some research and change the language of your message.
- What’s the impact? This may be quite unclear. It may impact you, yes, but what about the other person? How does this issue affect something they care deeply about?
- What do you agree on? Any conversation will start on a better footing if it’s built on a foundation of points of agreement. Perhaps it’s that you both care deeply about the success of your organization, or that you agree that productivity is important in the team. Start there, and show how your issue relates to that.
- Do you have a recommendation? Without a preferred course of action, you’re merely dumping the issue in their lap. That’s not nearly as helpful as when you can show a way to deal with the problem.
- Are you willing to help? Even a course of action is just adding work unless you’re willing to invest some of your own time and energy to help fix the problem. Plus, this level of commitment is a strong indicator of how important the issue is to you.
Finally, always keep this in mind: Authority figures are people too. They make mistakes, they have blind spots, but they want to keep their dignity despite that. So do your best to help that person look and feel better about addressing what you’re bringing to them.
by Carl Dierschow