6 ways to overcome fear of speaking up
Michael’s face was pale as he stared at the floor, his jaw clenched in frustration. He’d just found out that a recent decision had gone horribly wrong. It could cost him his reputation and maybe even his job as a senior executive in customer service.
He looked up at us and with a quiet whisper, Michael asked, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
The sad part was that it didn’t have to happen this way. People in his organization knew it wasn’t a good call. He had everything available to ensure that he made the best decisions, but he never heard their feedback.
He was a victim of FOSU: Fear of Speaking Up.
What made it worse is that he had created the culture that brought him down. He was known for an explosive temper, for belittling and shaming people who saw things differently than he did, and he only ever asked people to validate what he thought.
Unfortunately, Michael’s story isn’t unique. Many leaders create cultures where FOSU reigns – particularly with regard to difficult truths about themselves. When people don’t speak up, problems multiple, innovation stagnates, customers leave, and the business can ultimately fail.
If you want to achieve breakthrough results, however, you’ve got to make the best decisions possible. To do that you need to have as much relevant information as possible.
Here are six ways to help you overcome FOSU and ensure you have the truth and get the feedback you need to make the best decisions:
1. Ask for the Truth
Regularly encourage dialog in your team. Ask people to teach you one thing you didn’t know. Become a person known for caring what’s really going on. Does what you hear match what you see?
2. Say Thank You
When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank the person for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.
If you ask for input, take time to respond. Even if the ideas aren’t actionable, when you acknowledge that the ideas were heard and considered, you increase the likelihood of hearing more in the future.
4. Never Ever Shoot the Messenger
If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, bite your lip. If you attack them, they won’t bring you another concern.
5. Find Your Truth-Tellers
There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.
6. Look in the Mirror
If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to look in the mirror and examine how you are interacting with others. The odds are that you’re not doing one or more of the first four items on this list. If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.
If you’re a senior leader or business owner and are confident that you do these things, but you’re still not getting the flow of information you need from the frontlines, take a look at how your frontline leaders and middle managers are handling information. Often, they may avoid looking bad in your eyes by creating their own FOSU cultures and squelching the feedback you desperately need.
It may take time, but when you consistently ask for the truth, show gratitude for input, and respond to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.
Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. They are keynote leadership speakers, trainers, and the award-winning authors of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let’s Grow Leaders, their leadership training and consulting firm.