Speak up or shut up?
It can be a daunting question to say the least. When are we safely within our rights and within a realm that would warmly welcome our sage like insights and input? And when are we in that No Go Zone that should have caution tape and flashing red lights around even the notion that our thoughts or opinions might be welcomed? And to complicate matters further, under what circumstances do we throw caution to the wind and put our thoughts and feelings out there simply because it’s important to do so and forego the mental wrestling match over whether or not our words and actions are invited, appreciated or appropriate?
While I can and will readily throw out a disclaimer that each and every situation is different, I do believe that some set of principles or guidelines around the matter are necessary for ourselves and our sanity. Analyzing every circumstance and situation is a dangerously flawed policy that could drive anybody’s sanity to the harrowing point of either an explosion or a full scale meltdown. I’m a firm believer that both can and should be avoided at all cost.
So what is one to do? Create categories. I think that whether we realize it or not we put our diverse relationships into various and sundry classifications. We have mere acquaintances that we see very occasionally and sporadically. These are not people we proactively spend time with but occasionally stumble across at the company picnic or bump into at the grocery store. In this case, keep your opinions about their obnoxious kids you met at the picnic and the bad beer in their grocery cart to yourself. Your thoughts are neither warranted nor welcome so your only task in this instance is to be polite and move on allowing yourself to feel only slightly smug about your darling children and organic produce.
The only addendum that would apply here, whether someone is intimately familiar to you or an utter and complete stranger, is that if you see or are aware of something that flies in the face of decency, honesty and ethics, you have a moral imperative to “speak up.” And speaking up doesn’t mandate full scale fisticuffs. Neighbors of ours that are dear friends were sharing a story about being paired up on the golf course with another couple. The husband of this other couple was loudly and unabashedly insulting and berating his wife. In that instance, several options are open to you: you could take this guy out the woodshed, so to speak, and give him a full scale “come to Jesus,” or you could make a more subtle, but infinitely powerful choice just as they did. They told this couple they couldn’t play with them any longer and left the game and the golf course. I am reasonably certain their quiet yet obvious disgust spoke volumes to the caveman they had been paired up with. Regardless of your approach, in situations of unarguable wrongdoing, the world needs more courage than is commonly seen.
With a business partner, I believe the exact opposite is in order. While most partnerships go down in blinding flames, I am convinced that one of the ways to guard against the fate of most is an uncommon level of candor and transparency. As one of my favorite authors points out, “there is no such thing as a firewall between business and personal relationships.” The two are inescapably woven together. And a partnership of this sort counts so strongly on the performance of everyone involved that forcing yourself to believe that a business partner’s personal life is “none of your business” is a declaration that will prove to be foolish at best and disastrous at worst. I believe that once you cross the threshold into this sort of relationship, nearly everything is fair game and your ideas, thoughts, opinions, concerns and suggestions, should be voiced with care and compassion and without risk of punishment or penalty. For example: If a business partner drinks to excess every time you get together with clients for a dinner meeting, this needs a discussion. If your business partner’s SPOUSE over imbibes regularly, this too is beyond relevant and can and should be addressed. No such discussion should need to be tiptoed around for fear of being met with defensiveness or hostility. If this doesn’t seem “fair” I would highly suggest a sole proprietorship.
Now where family and friends are concerned the situation becomes far more nuanced, tricky and riddled with unfortunate uncertainty. And so this is where laying claim to both the courage and the confidence in your convictions becomes absolutely, unequivocally necessary. If you see a family member once or twice a year they fall into the first category. They are a genetic “acquaintance” and those rules around holding your tongue, you must forcibly apply. If however you really and truly have a relationship with another, be it friend or family, your thoughts and opinions should come from a place of love and care and should be welcomed as such whether they are pleasant to hear or as difficult to swallow as that worm someone dared us to eat when we were eight. I believe that the highest calling of any relationship we hold dear is that it inspires us to our best selves and challenges us along the way to do so and be so. If you are afraid to disagree with someone for fear of it harming the relationship, you do not, in fact, have a relationship. By definition any true connection we share with another has essential elements of honesty, integrity and forthrightness. It is a place where our thoughts, our feelings, our imagination and exquisite ideas are welcomed with warmth and precious safety. It is also a place where we are called upon to welcome the wisdom of others for how it can shape us into far better people than we would otherwise become.
Now this is not license to tell your sister-in-law that her house resembles a disastrous drop zone for garage sale caliber crap. Nor is it permission to tell a friend that a Ford Pinto would have gotten better mileage than his latest business idea. Honesty is essential but so is tenderness and compassion. Offer to help your sister-in-law clean up the house or to host a strategy session with experienced business owners for your friend. . Having said that, we all know people who just need to put on their big boy pants, stop whining and complaining and just get about the business of doing and being better. Still, we all have a far easier time with change when suggestions are served up with encouragement rather than condemnation and our heart senses compassion rather than criticism.
So this Christmas, give yourself the gift of Freedom of Speech. The freedom to share your thoughts, your ideas, your inspirations and opinions. And give others the gift of your willingness to listen with an open heart, an open mind and a realization that there is great Wisdom every one of us has yet to unwrap.