Nancy was attending a presentation given by her company’s CEO. At the end of the presentation, the CEO asked if there were any questions. Nancy could immediately think of a couple but hesitated when there were no other hands raised in the room. Then her colleague Jay raised his hand and asked the very question that Nancy wanted to. The CEO applauded Jay for his great question and proceeded to respond.
Many of us can relate to Nancy because we’ve been in the same predicament: to open our mouth and get ridiculed or stay silent and have someone else take the credit? After all, Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”
While that may be true in some situations, there are times when you must speak up. There are, however, some universal guidelines to follow so you don’t end up a fool and emerge wiser for having done so.
Silence is Golden When
You’re Not Sure What To Say
In many situations, silence triumphs words. When your best friend loses a loved one, the simple act of hugging speaks volumes than saying “I’m sorry for your loss.” Silence is powerful but it can also feel awkward. Most people rush in to fill the space and end up blabbing and nervously saying things they didn’t mean to reveal.
You Want Someone To Feel Heard
When your significant other or best friend is trying to vent because no one at work listens to them, the least you can do is give them the respect of listening without expressing your own opinion. A nod and good eye contact are better substitutes for words. Same goes for when someone is trying to tell a story or is making a point during meetings, give them the gift of silence until they’re done talking.
You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say
Rather than trying to blurt something in moment and say something that’s hurtful and inconsiderate, it’s best to pause. Take a few breaths if you like and use the moment to think about the potential impact of your words.
You Want The Upper Hand While Negotiating
Silence can be your best friend during critical negotiation moments. Good salespeople know this – say what you have to say and remain silent so the other person can come to their own conclusions. In such situations, silence conveys confidence and strength. It also shows the other person that you’re listening to them and respecting them.
You Don’t Want To Come Across As A Braggart
We’ve all done this. Talking simply because we want to brag about our vacation in Bali or post pictures with celebrities to induce envy. Thanks to social media and photoshopping apps, it’s quite painless to do so, but there is a difference between sharing information and tooting one’s own horn.
Speak Up When
You Have A Valid Point To Make
If you believe you have something that will make a difference or want to share an idea to make something better, by all means, speak up. If you disagree with someone, nodding or listening implies agreement. By that token, speak up when you have a question to ask or want to question something that feels wrong.
When You are Feeling Disrespected
A female executive once politely told her male colleague who kept interrupting that when he did so, he made her feel undervalued and disrespected even if he wasn’t intentionally doing it. Her male colleague finally got it and that was the last time he interrupted her. Remember, use your voice clearly and confidently to articulate how you feel and let people know your worth.
When You Want To Lift Someone Else Up
There are times when we need to speak up for those who have no voice or are unable to do so. Many great leaders have used their voices as effective weapons against injustice and inequalities. Call out when you see something wrong being done or to give someone credit when they deserve it.
Whether at work or in a relationship, if you believe what you have to say is valuable, don’t be afraid to open your mouth. Speaking your mind is an essential skill when used judiciously with intention and purpose. Words have power, and so does silence. To quote Epictetus, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”