How to speak up without being thrown out

There’s so much talk about authenticity at work but the reality is that in many corners of the business – and personal world  – there’s a ‘cancel culture’.

For those who aren’t familiar with that term, ‘cancel culture’ refers to the common practice of withdrawing support or eliminating from your team or organisation anyone that has opposing views.  This person may also be considered to be behaving in a way that is perceived as being contrary to the organisation’s values or expectations.  When I say ‘organisation’, it’s often one personality that sits at the helm and obliterates people as if they were a pixels in a computer game.

You’ve expressed a view that’s not held by that individual ‘moral arbiter’?
Then it’s boof – you’re off, mate.

You don’t play the group game?
Zap – watch ’em go.

You’re questioning the status quo?
Bullseye and Goodbye.

This often happens if you occupy a minority position. Let’s say, you’re the only woman among a group of men, or the only black person in the room. Not only can being cast off or passed over in this way be due to race or gender, but also to class, background and experience.  Many of us may feel, at any one time, like ‘the only one in the room’.   You may well be censoring yourself out of fear.  This fear could be valid: you actually do have to be careful about how you speak up.

Of course, it’s not like that everywhere.  In many places, if you do offer an opposing viewpoint, people may ask you about it, challenge you with curiosity and accept the differences.

However, in situations where you feel your voice may not be so heard, how do you increase your visibility and presence?

If you think speaking up puts you at risk of being ‘cancelled’, then ‘shutting up’ may feel like the only option.

Here’s how to build your voice, without putting your career on the line.  According to Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You’ By Anne Morriss and Frances X. Frei, there are 3 stages to follow if you want to increase your presence but not your risk.

Find your buddy:

Firstly, Frei in the podcast with Andy Kaufman of The People and Projects Podcasts, asserts that if you’re feeling silenced, it’s best to have a witness:  that could be someone to talk to confidentially before and after the meeting so that you can check in and debrief with them.

Alternatively, this could be someone you’ll have eye contact with if you’re in the same room.  Remotely, they’re you’re WhatsApp buddy.  This is someone who’ll send you a ‘thumbs up’ emoji to show they’ve got your back, or remind you to ‘wear a face’ when you’re looking openly disdainful.

Find your voice:

Step One:  the simplest way to build your voice and presence is a factual answer to a question, for example,  “It’s on Tuesday.”  There’s no risk here of being seen as a pedant.  You don’t even have to do this with the leader.  Respond to your colleagues to be viewed as in the loop.

Step Two:  (If Anne or Frances ever read this, I should come clean and say this is one I’ve added because it works thus I recommend you do it.)  Paraphrase what’s been said before,  “As Paul was saying, there are two choices.” You may not be able to build, as suggested in the next step, so do this instead, again, not with the leader but with one of the other participants.

Step Three: Build on what the other person was saying. For example,  “As Paul was saying, there are two choices.  The one that may be the most promising is…” You could reword the add-on statement to a question, such as, “Would the most promising be Option One?”

By adding to what someone else is saying, you’re making them look good and building up allies for the future.  To have a positive effect, none of this needs to be in response to anything the leader of the meeting says directly.

Step Four:  As people build on your statements, you’ll know what they value so you can pursue your conversations more in that direction. This step, by the way, could happen in the same meeting as the previous three steps or may happen over a series of encounters.

In this way you build up your credibility safely, so you don’t accidentally end up with your head on the block.  In time, you’ll build up enough authority to present more of yourself.

And just in case you think there’s a whiff of dishonesty about this, there isn’t – unless you choose to be. For example, don’t paraphrase or build on a phrase that you don’t believe.

What you’re doing here is gradually building up your ‘credibility points’ to increase your authority.

With that credibility, there’s more trust. This means you can bring more of yourself to work. I’ll leave the bits you leave behind to your discretion.

Your Action Steps:

  1. In your next meeting, when asked a factual question ensure you respond with an answer. It’s low risk, based on fact and you know it. Easy.
  2. If there’s no such chance to do that, there will probably be an opportunity to paraphrase what someone else has said. Mention their name when you do it. It’ll build allyship.
  3. You can also add to what someone else is saying, again adding their name, such as: “Patrique, that’s very workable”. Then you have your build-on statement, “You could add the customer dashboard to that.” Alternatively, rephrase that as a question: “Have you considered adding the customer dashboard to that?”
  4. Watch how and when others refer to what you’ve just said. That’s when you’re on to something.



Do you ever feel that’s it’s difficult to speak up in meetings?  What’s stopping you?

Want help in being heard?  Want to increase your impact face to face as well as remotely??

Book a free 30 minute Discovery session with me or explore your options.

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