Speak up for yourself

Put the force of your convictions towards a course of action and don’t be ambivalent, advises Gary Goodwin

Gary Goodwin

Adam Galinsky gave an interesting TED talk that can have particular application to up and coming in-house counsel. Galinsky discussed how sometimes people do not speak up when they should. Of course, the corollary of this is that some people speak up when they should not.

When I first started working for a company, I generally listened to the discussions at hand. This occurred up until a few months later when I had a dream. During this night-time event, my then boss appeared before me and said: “Do not be a nullity.” I read a lot of Karl Gustav Jung at the time, so I may have over analysed this, but I eventually took this to mean that I needed to speak up more.

Many reasons exist for not speaking up when you should. You may have encountered some situations when a debate arises over some course of action. If at all possible, you should direct the group to consider the 3D approach. This involves engaging in a dialogue to get all, or at least most of the relevant facts on the table. Once this happens, you debate the issue at hand. After a hopefully cordial debate, the group can then decide. Mind you, if you work in an autocratic organization, you may be relegated to listening to what the leader decides.

During these discussions, Galinsky suggests that the range of times that you can appropriately speak up can depend upon the amount of power you have in a particular situation. You can expand the range of times you could speak up by increasing the amount of power you have.

Charles Handy explains that this power can come from a number of areas such as being a gate keeper over a particular function or achieving a higher managerial level in the organization. You should exercise some caution when exercising gate keeper power. I had the unfortunate situation when a person simply gave himself the gate keeper power and said he had to approve certain projects when that was never the case in the past. If that person refers to themselves in the third person by their title, then you know you have a problem. This abuse of power resulted in a loss of potential allies.

Some of these power areas such as a promotion cannot be increased at precisely the right time. But you can increase your power by entering into a particular discussion through a number of other techniques. Firstly, you can advocate on behalf of others. If someone has been working on something that you could help with, you could put forward this solution. Here you can be seen as putting someone else ahead of yourself. Although it may seem that you are putting yourself second, you still may be asked to implement the potential solution. This shows leadership potential by encouraging others.

Secondly, you could put forward some particular expertise. Now, everyone already anticipates lawyers to have a particular expertise. They may be concerned that the lawyer uses this expertise since few people would be in a position to debate a legal position. Also, lawyers tend to think that with great power, comes great responsibility to point out all of the potential risks of a venture. I would suggest making that your second go-to response. Instead use this power to advance the venture first, then make sure the risks are handled.

Thirdly, you can increase your power by obtaining social support and allies. Support and allies can rally to you once you have shown yourself a bit more prone to advance a particular venture as opposed to simply pointing out all of the risks all of the time. Putting forth other people’s solutions - not as your own, mind you - can also produce the necessary allies when you need them. Once you have at least one of these power situations, then Galinsky suggests speaking with conviction and passion. This force to speak up arises from moral conviction.

Some leaders complain about the two-handed lawyers when the lawyers point out the issues, then says, “but on the other hand.” People listening to this can have a hard time ascertaining if the lawyer is recommending a course of action or not. But by having a moral conviction towards a certain position you can persuade others to your point of view.

As an irrelevant aside, the reference to conviction and passion reminded me of the precautionary poem by Yeats, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.” If you are consumed with this passionate intensity, then make sure you take into account other positions on a topic. If you think you know everything, let me assure you, you do not. But with the prerequisite power, you should put forward the force of your convictions towards a course of action and not be ambivalent. Be positive first, and risk avoiding second.

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