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Speak up without losing your job

by on
in Career Management,Workplace Communication

When Nilofer Merchant was an admin at Apple, she used to sit in meetings and believe that she could see the problems so clearly. Even so, she didn’t speak up.

“I worried about being seen as too young, or too brown, or too female, or too uneducated to offer the solution to the group,” she says. “But mostly, I worried about being ... too wrong.”

So she kept quiet. She preferred keeping her job to saying something that might make her look stupid.

Twenty years later, after working at HP, Adobe, Symantec, Nokia and others, she’s learned one simple thing: Stupidity isn’t what stops good teams from being successful.

More often, what happens is that people see a problem but choose not to speak up about it because raising the issue could be taboo. “We tell ourselves that the issue is theirs and not ours,” Merchant says. “As Lincoln said, ‘Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than speak up and remove all doubt.’”

There’s a cost to our silence, Merchant says. “When we are silent, we are hurting the outcome,” she says.

It’s been shown time and again that minority viewpoints drive better decision-making in groups.

So here’s how she suggests speaking your truth without losing your job. Rather than saying, “This is the problem,” ask, “Could it be that this is the problem?”

“Could it be” is a conversation starter, not an accusation. It allows everyone to engage with the question. It allows for discussion.

Could it be that you’re ready to speak up?

— Adapted from End Malaria, Nilofer Merchant.

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