Silence or Violence

“Speak out?  It’s more than my job’s worth.”

“Say something? Last time I tried that,  I got shouted at.”

“It’s nothing to do with me, why should I risk saying anything?”

“Speak out? Why bother– it won’t make any difference.”

How can we work out what will be the best option? On the one hand, speaking out might create even more problems. On the other, not speaking out also has consequences.

Health and safety is an excellent example. Although failing to speak out when you see someone doing something dangerous carries penalties, people still don’t say anything because they don’t want to look boring or were shouted at when they spoke up before. On the other hand, speaking out and distracting someone at the wrong moment can cause the accident you wanted to prevent.

When should we speak out instead of stay silent?

Sometimes it’s very clear–a broken promise, an important issue. Other times, we really don’t know, so we tend to keep quiet as that seems the safest bet (in the short term at least). Based on their research in work situations, the research team behind Crucial Confrontations  recommend you ask yourself the following questions before deciding to stay silent

  • Am I acting out my concerns instead of speaking?
    If I’m being sarcastic, sulky, withdrawn, unco-operative, I’m acting out my anger/worry/fear. If so, it is better to speak.
  • Is my conscience nagging me?
    Is the situation making me feel ill of keeping me awake at night? What’s at stake?
  •  Am I downplaying the risk of keeping quiet? Am I being realistic about the risks of speaking up?
  • Will it make a difference? How could I speak up and be heard?

When to stay silent

There are times when it is better to walk away or to keep silent. There is no hard or fast rule, it depends on the situation and our values.

Here’s a checklist to help you decide.

  • What’s my motive for speaking up? Is it about helping someone improve or is it an attempt to humiliate them?
  • Is this the right time and place to speak out?
  • How important is this?
  • Will my speaking out cause more harm than not speaking out? What are the real dangers?
  • Do I have enough information that I am right? Am I clear about what I am speaking out about

What next?

So you want to speak out, but not sure where to start?

All the research points to the importance of getting your story straight, removing blame and keeping calm. Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication recommends clearly expressing how I am without blaming or criticizing. Then ending with a clear request for what would enrich my life without demanding. I love helping people repair relationships by changing the way they speak out. If you would like a complimentary confidential conversation on whether or not you should speak out, contact me.

Other posts on this topic Difficult Conversations, Complaining Nicely, Giving Bad News in a Good Way