By Manny Roman
I just love Ted.com. I don’t have to read an entire book to get great enlightening information in relatively short videos from interesting speakers. In my usual quest for enlightenment, I came across a talk by Luvvie Ajayi Jones (luvvie.org), an “author, speaker and digital strategist who thrives at the intersection of comedy, technology and activism.” Her talk “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable” has received nearly six million views. I will share some of her perspectives and suggestions with you in this column and, of course, add my interpretation.
Most of us wander through life uncomfortable with speaking the truth against the status quo. We may even be silenced by fear of consequences. Think of the last business meeting you attended. Did anyone speak up with a dissenting opinion, perhaps one shared by others who were fearful of speaking themselves? How welcome was this received by those in charge? I vividly recall a meeting where I spoke up against a management policy that was contrary to good customer relationships. I got squashed like a grape for this. After the meeting a couple of colleagues quietly told me they felt the same and complimented me on my courage. I have witnessed this strange behavior many times.
Ajayi Jones suggests that we strive to become the first domino, the one that starts the process for others to be able to speak truth in uncomfortable circumstances. We must be capable of speaking the hard truth when necessary. Be the one who speaks what others are thinking but are afraid to say. Don’t let the system count on your silence to perpetuate an untruth. You have a duty to speak the truth especially when it is difficult. Ask yourself if your silence helps anyone. Silence is an affirmation, confirmation, agreement and encouragement of the present circumstances.
She suggests that you ask yourself three questions about speaking up. “Did you mean it? Can you defend it? Did you say it with love?” If the answer is yes to all three, then speak up and let happen what will happen. Telling the truth to those in power should not be sacrificial, it is our duty. Truth builds strong bridges to a common ground. Bridges not built on truth will collapse. I suggest one additional question: What is the worst that can happen if I tell the truth? Quite often, the actual consequences are not as dire as anticipated, however the benefits are much greater.
So, how do we know what is “truth?”
Having a well-defined value system will be instrumental in the evaluation of the “truth.” Values like integrity, honesty, genuine caring, loyalty, dependability, justice, etc. will provide an operational structure from which you will rarely deviate. Your value system will be a lens through which you can envision what could and should be. The value system will provide the courage needed to disrupt what is presently happening while searching for a “better” truth.
It takes courage to be truthful. You were told as a child that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That doesn’t apply here. That was to keep from hurting someone’s feelings in a situation of little consequence. Here we are discussing situations of significance. We must find comfort in being the domino that encourages others to find their voices to speak out when the situation requires it.
Ajayi Jones states that you may be among the most powerful in the room when you have that domino courage. Initiating a necessary discussion that drives toward a better situation should be a confidence-building process for everyone. The more you practice being that truth teller, the easier it becomes. Others will look to you for inspiration and encouragement. If you aspire to be or are a leader, telling the hard truth brings significant value to you and those you lead. You cannot be a great leader without the courage to be truthful.
What if someone asks your opinion and you know that they don’t really want to know the truth? I will answer the question with my own question, “You asked, so you want to know the truth, right?” Their reaction will let you know what they really want. Be courageous and truthful and leave others better for having known you.
Manny Roman, CRES is the AMSP Business Operation Manager.