Thoughts from the book When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael D. Sedler

In our last article I shared Dr. Sedler’s ideas about why some people might find it difficult to speak up, and some questions to ask yourself before speaking up.

Today I want to share his ideas about how to handle the potentially uncomfortable situation of speaking up to someone in authority. This person might be your boss, parent, teacher, or even your spouse, however I believe the guidelines given today will be helpful in any relationship.

It is often difficult to speak up to someone in authority over us because of their power to create negative consequences. Sadly, not speaking up often leads to gossip and murmuring, thus tainting the climate, so it is ultimately in the best interest of everyone if there is open communication. There are certainly things those in authority can do to create an open-door policy, but today we will focus on what actions those under authority can take.

Dr. Sedler focuses on the difference between “Questioning” and “Asking Questions” when speaking up to those in authority.

Questioning Authority   When you speak up, you will want to avoid coming across as “questioning” their authority. This is defined in the feelings, attitude, and tone of the question. Is there:

  • Motive is to create disunity
    • Motive is to override another’s opinion with our own or to prove our points
    • Filled with suspicion, lack of trust, accusations, and puts people on defense

Check yourself in these areas before speaking up and if you find you have suspicion, lack of trust, or other negative thoughts about the person in authority, seek wise counsel before proceeding. Go slow and make sure you have all the necessary facts and information.  Weigh the consequences. Pray. And proceed with calmness and maturity.

Six forms of questioning to avoid:

  • Persisting – keeps asking because they didn’t get the answer they wanted
    • Complaining – whining
    • Challenging – may be rooted in arrogance, accusation, or ulterior motives
    • Debating and disputing – putting them on the defense
    • Making accusations –Be careful of having an accusing spirit!
    • Taking up an offense – when we get offended, we allow paranoia in and become ultra-sensitive. The cycle grows and damages the relationship more.

Asking Questions Asking questions is not the problem. Attitudes behind the questions can be a problem. The best way to approach those in authority is to have the motive to gain understanding.

Checklist for asking questions:

  • Prepare yourself for the discussion. Pray. Think about what you will say. Write out some thoughts.
    • Find an appropriate time to meet. Let them know how long you might need to talk.
    • Get to the point when you do meet.
    • Let them know you recognize their authority.  Be clear that you are only seeking understanding.
    • If you are still confused after their answer, humbly ask if they can go over it again. It is important that you go away with understanding!
    • Do not become defensive.  Often questions turn into arguments in difficult conversations.
    • Avoid trying to justify yourself and your position. Just say “this is how I see it”
    • Thank them for their time when finished.

Dr. Sedler has much more to say on this topic, but if you apply just these suggestions your communication with those in authority will go more smoothly.

Join me next week for Dr. Sedler’s advice on how to deal with peer pressure.

-Jan Jones

For some more great insight on how to speak up at work, check out this video!