The true value of communication skills can never be underestimated. It is so much more than a system to share information – it’s what we use to develop and enrich our relationships, and express our thoughts, feelings, ideas, dreams and fears. For many people, communicating effectively is a real struggle, which causes endless problems, misunderstandings, lost opportunities and so much more. Learning to communicate better is a very achievable goal; one that will improve not only your day-to-day interactions, but your relationships and overall life satisfaction. Now that’s a great motivator!
Why are we afraid to speak?
Most people are afraid to speak up. We can be downright terrified of being judged, looking stupid, or not being taken seriously. The fear of negative consequences that could arise seems to overshadow our desire to be heard at that moment. Just about everyone can relate to that time at school when we shot up our hand to answer a question, only to be so off the mark that even the teacher had to laugh out loud. Or that one occasion when you divulged a secret crush or embarrassing experience to the wrong person, and it spread like wildfire. Those moments sting and last a long time. Before we know it, we end up withholding what we want to say, because putting it all out there is just too risky, or we feel that it won’t make an impact anyway. Additionally, some people are just plain shy or more introverted than others, but this doesn’t mean they can’t, or won’t, speak up when needed.
The good news is that there are so many great reasons to speak up and be heard that they easily outweigh the reasons not to. When we realize the power we have when we advocate for ourselves and others, it becomes increasingly harder to stay silent. Think back on times when you did speak up. It felt really good I bet! When something positive comes out of speaking up, it’s always worth any nervous or “cringe-worthy” moments that may fleetingly arise. What’s critical is that we speak up against wrongdoings. Bystanders that say nothing and do nothing are guilty of helping to perpetuate the offences – whether they are small or large. Smiling at a co-worker’s racist joke or ignoring someone getting bullied isn’t OK. Remaining silent allows harmful behavior to continue: it perpetuates violence, discrimination, hatred, bullying, harassment, and even war. I know this all sounds rather heavy, and it is, but our job is to stand up and speak out, especially when others don’t have the ability or tools to do so.
Committing to communicating
Speaking up is easier than you think. It doesn’t mean being confrontational or aggressive, it’s about being assertive and using your emotional intelligence to get a feel for the situation so you can act accordingly. You’ve got all the skills you need…you just have to take that leap of faith and say something. If you see a parent in a store screaming at a young child for example, you don’t have to ignore it. You can lean towards that person and simply say “Hey, looks like your having a tough time, can I help?”. You will most likely diffuse the situation and it will bring that person towards the realization that their behaviour was noticed by others, and that it’s not good. You can also use these four small words that can work in most situations when speaking up is definitely needed, but you don’t feel particularly eloquent. Simply say, “hey, that’s not cool”. Try it next time! Another important tool to have in your back pocket is to ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen if I speak up right now?”. Maybe they tell you it’s none of your business, to get lost, or that you don’t know anything. Is that really so bad to hear, especially knowing that speaking up was more important than a momentary slight?
Overcoming your fear of speaking up starts slowly. Decide to make a commitment to it going forward. Just like any goals we work towards, it starts with one step, then another. We can learn to use our voices and be heard. When we use our communication skills to bring about positive change, it shows we care and that we are committed to making improvements, whether it’s at home, work, or in our communities. Frankly, what other people think about us in these situations shouldn’t matter, it’s more important to have integrity and commit to what’s right. That’s how we make the world a better place.
“One word expresses the pathway to greatness: voice. Those on this path find their voice and inspire others to find theirs. The rest never do.” – Stephen R. Covey