How to Speak Up at Work

When you express a strong or a divergent opinion, your listeners may use cognitive distortions to interpret your opinion.

The fact of our lives is that what you say will go through the mental filters of those you are saying it to- their experiences, their rules, their upbringing, their culture and their disposition before being parsed and understood by them. You are in no control of how they will understand what you say but you can mitigate the erosion of the message by creating a safe environment for them to understand it.


Here are a few recommended actions:

Use a Behavior or Value Frame:  
People build a series of mental "filters" through biological and cultural influences. They then use these filters to make sense of the world. Thoughts become opinions and are affected by attitudes, rules, beliefs, and worldviews The choices they then make are influenced by their creation of a frame. Framing selects certain aspects of an issue and makes them more prominent in order to elicit certain interpretations and evaluations of the issue, whereas the agenda-setting introduces the issue topic to increase its salience and accessibility. 

Set the tone using the Behavior Frame and the Value Frame by communicating that the reason for your opinion is based on a common commitment towards a better product or culture or discussion.
Then share your disagreement.




Share your good Intent:
Create safety for the other person by quickly and clearly explaining your positive intent before you share your strong and diffident opinion. It may also be useful to explicitly state what you do not intend. For example, “I am just trying to add to the conversation because of my experience in the topic. I do not intend to question your apparent expertise and authority on the subject.” 
Creating safety for the other person helps avoid enablement of unnecessary mental filters in the understanding of your intent by the other person. 


Focus on Emotion as well as Content:

Most organizations focus more on the content of what people are saying and avoid discussions on the emotions they exhibit while sharing the content. The problem with this is that even though we do not discuss the emotions, we guess at what they mean and assume the worst about the person who shows those emotions. A good strategy would be to ask about what caused the strong emotions whenever you see them. When a person explains his or her forcefulness, it prevents observers from assuming the worst and create mental filters around the validity of the content of the discussion or the motive of the speaker.

The Hazards of Speaking Up

In a sales meeting one hot summer in Doha, I decided that I had an opinion. And instead of keeping that opinion to myself; in a room full of sales staff; I voiced it.
The next few moments are indelible in my memory as an onslaught of nouns personifying my presence and intelligence was showered upon me in the most profound manner. I was a co-owner of that company but as a woman; I should have stayed quiet and listened. Having an opinion contrary or otherwise meant I was insulting the intelligence of the men in the room.



My perceived competency decreased in the room by measures only because I spoke up. I was labeled- aggressive, tenacious, abrasive and several gentlemen would shake their heads in disturbed silence; ending it with closing their eyes in a hopeless gesture simultaneously mumbling " That woman...."
How many times have I made bold, brash statements only to be called "emotional and incompetent." A man making the same bold, brash statements in a loud threatening tone is labeled a "leader " and a "visionary".
In a meeting with 3 gentlemen in silicon valley very recently; one of them forcefully asked me to explain the delay in a transaction and when I answered in the same tone; took offense to my brash behavior.
Speaking forcefully does not conform to the stereotype of women being caring and nurturing and therefore women face a forceful backlash than a man does when exhibiting the same behavior.
In a landmark study, Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann asked the question, “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?” Their study documented the unequal penalty women experience for showing anger at work, but then went further to explore the reasons behind this gender effect. Their results suggest that the penalty occurs because observers attribute women’s anger to internal characteristics (“she is an angry person,’’ ‘‘she is out of control”), while attributing men’s anger to external circumstances (“he was under a lot of stress,” “things were out of control so someone had to take charge”). While this bias against women is unfair, it is often unconscious/unintentional, which makes it even harder to address.

What do your biases say about you ?

Only 5% of our biases are conscious.  That says a lot about how much of ourselves we think is really us acting without biases.
Unconscious biases are a myriad of biases that reside in our psyche and get processed by our brains without even our own explicit acknowledgment.




Our behaviors are predominantly determined by these biases. Instant opinions, pre-judgments, evaluations without processing are all devoid of logical thinking and pre-conditioned biases which are deeply ingrained in the processing of thoughts and actions through precedence and experiences.
The human brain interacts with its environment using sensory organs. Using the information collected through sensory organs, the brain analyses information, associates and maps it using memory landscapes. Memory is normally associated with the accumulation of previously collected information. So every new information is passed through the same filters unless we make a conscious attempt to use alternative logic to process the path of conclusion given the information.

We don't see things are they are. We see things as We are.


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