Mixed Signals on Speaking Up

communication feedback Jun 05, 2020

We’ve all gotten mixed signals at work at one point or another. One manager says “Speak up more” while another tells you to “Let others speak up”. So, which is it? Talk more or talk less?

What if it’s both?

If you are getting conflicting feedback from different managers take a few minutes to reflect on why they have different messages. You need to look at what is going on and driving the feedback.

Things to look for:

  1. Their perspective: What is their perspective? Do they see you only in meetings with more senior leaders or do they see you only in team meetings / daily work activities?
  2. What’s different: If they see you in different settings there may be differences in your behavior. Do you speak up and work to control the flow of meetings at the team level but sit quietly in the room with senior leaders?
  3. Why is there a difference: Do you feel intimidated by senior leaders or feel like it’s not your place to correct them or challenge their ideas? Are you tired of the annoying co-worker that finds fault in every idea that isn’t his, so you shut him down quickly?

Often the mixed feedback is due to the situation. People see you in different settings/ situations and our behavior varies due to the situation. It’s normal to behave in a more relaxed, casual manner within our teams while being more reserved around senior leaders (particularly when we are first getting that exposure). The challenge is to make sure your behavior is appropriate for your role in each setting.

When with senior leaders, if they ask you to defend an idea you need to be ready to speak up for yourself and your idea. Typically, any challenge has more to do with the idea/ solution/ data then it does with you personally. Respond to the question with an explanation, background or data as applicable. Keep in mind it’s not an attack on you, it’s a request for information, so provide information. If you don’t have the details on the tip of your tongue tell them, you will get back to them with the information by X time – and do it. Remember you are in the meeting for a reason, so own your role.

If you are dominating the conversation in a team meeting, check your reasons. Is it to keep things on track or is it to keep someone quiet who drives you nuts? Keep in mind if you consistently shut someone down, they will check out and disengage from the team. While this seems great as they won’t be disrupting the meetings anymore, they also won’t be giving the team their best effort and they could be talking about how you don’t listen to other’s ideas. Make sure to find the right balance of letting people speak up, listening to them and then moving the agenda forward. It can be a fine line so keep your eye on it.

Now back to the folks giving you feedback. Did you ask them for specific examples or what that looks like to them? If not, take some time to follow up and listen to what they have to say. It can be enlightening and will help you be heard when you need to speak up.


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