Speaking Up

One of the common pieces of feedback that stands out from earlier in my career is to speak up more in meetings. Sometimes people straight up said it. Other times, it was implied by other more vaguely worded feedback related to fuzzier concepts like scope of influence.

“Speaking up more” was challenging advice for me to follow. Sometimes it still is. I am the type of extremely introverted person who prefers to observe and analyze the situation for a while before voicing an opinion, like an owl hiding and watching from a hole in a tree, where hopefully nobody will notice me until I’m ready to emerge.

But when people ask you to speak up more, they aren’t asking you to just arbitrarily voice opinions. There are enough opinions. What people usually need is more people asking good questions.

One of the best parts about asking questions is that you don’t have to know anything about the topic at hand. In fact, you’re putting yourself in a position of someone who doesn’t know the answer, whether you actually think you do or not.

There is a reason why when reviewing a production incident, you ask five whys. It gets you closer and closer to the real problems you need to solve, to prevent similar issues to happening again.

This relates to the importance of cultivating curiosity. Following my curiosity has led to so much of the growth and momentum in my life. Curiosity is the thing that keeps you asking questions. Curiosity will lead you to the real answers, instead of the answers that agree with what you already believe. If you’re curious, you never need to worry about the things you can’t control. You’ll figure it out and find a way forward.

So if someone tells you that you need to speak up more, start by asking questions. If you can’t think of anything at first, you can start by asking why. Why are we thinking of doing X using Y? Why is this problem happening so often? That’s what starts the wheels turning. If you’re lucky, your curiosity engine will start revving to help you overcome your fears of speaking up.

Written on May 18, 2024