When you decide to speak out, you want it to count. You want someone to listen. And, perhaps most important, you want to see change take place.
One of the most common things I hear from students and leaders is that they want to make a difference in the world. My advice to them and to you is not to wait until you have a big platform. You have a voice, and you can use it to make a difference right where you are today.
I know it can be intimidating to think about sharing your opinions with others. However, as leaders, even when it’s uncomfortable or unpopular, it is our responsibility to speak up.
So, how do you do it in a way where others listen, and it makes the most difference?
Here’s What I’ve Learned
Listen. Stephen Covey was spot on when he emphasized listening to understand. You should take the same approach.
Educate yourself. Nothing falls flatter than a well-articulated but ill-informed opinion. If you care enough to speak up, care enough to understand the detail of the issue at hand.
Contribute something of value. Don't just be an echo chamber. Our culture has plenty of parrots who repeat what someone else said. Add value in every situation.
Point to a solution. You don’t have to have the pathway to resolve the issue you are passionate about, but you can provide actionable ideas that spark action. No one wants to be reminded a problem is a problem. People are interested in what steps can be taken to resolve the situation.
Be consistent. Don't just say it once and expect to make a difference. Keep moving in the same direction and voicing the same ideas until the change becomes a reality.
And how do you overcome the hesitancy that often takes over at the moment when it's your turn to speak out?
Consider These Tips
Take a deep breath. It will help you relax and speak more conversationally. It will also increase the likelihood others will listen.
Don’t turn your thoughts into personal attacks. People have ideas and opinions. One person's views—though different from yours—doesn't make them bad or good. It just makes their perspective different.
Always couch your ideas inside a human story. Ideas have a way of shifting when you put assumptions and conclusions into the context of the human experience.
Don’t take feedback personally. The healthy exchange of ideas is essential. Let other people have their opinion, too. And if they make it personal, it doesn’t mean you have to receive it that way.
Own the opportunity, not how others react to you. Your job is to follow through on what you think needs to be said. You’re not responsible for what happens next. Solutions are rarely the responsibility of one person.
Your voice matters more than you think. People who care about you also care about what you think. Don’t just argue to argue. There is little profit in that approach. But when you feel compelled to speak up, don’t freak out. The world needs to hear what you have to say.