What lies beneath communication is want or need. Finding a way to identify these drives correctly then express them with deftness and heart lies at the core of the art of speaking up. We were taught at a young age, that “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” In other words, “be quiet.” Missing in lessons of our youth were the skills to express ourselves without being offensive yet offering our views in a confident loving manner. What we learn with The 5 Chairs is that we must always keep in mind our Jackal’s defense language. We must try to approach each situation from a place where we can positively assert our needs and speak our truth firmly through the language of our Dolphin.

When we are in the Attack Chair, our Jackal thoughts arise and we tend to blame others for our anger and discomfort. Or, alternatively, our Hedgehog thoughts creep in and we are thrown into the Self-Doubt Chair where we lack confidence in our voice and stay silent out of fear. But, thinking from the Detect Chair brings awareness to this tendency of self-doubt and attack and helping us to seek a resolution. Here, in this place of consciousness, we acknowledge the situation whilst making sure to be mindful of others when making our own voice heard.

“We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.”                                                           William Shakespeare, Macbeth

How many times have you been at a meeting where you disagreed with what was being discussed and didn’t speak up? How many times have you agreed to a deadline that wasn’t realistic? Or had a sense that someone was withholding information from you? Or that an unfair judgment was being made of a colleague’s work? What is the cost to you, the team and the company for not speaking up?

It’s not always easy to be authentic. It involves taking a risk. How will I be perceived? What will others think? Is it safe to say this? Will it be used against me? It can be especially hard if there are power differentials at play. However, once information is out on the table, it’s much easier to find effective solutions, create buy-in, and identify clear, doable steps to achieve objectives.

Finding our voice and speaking up in life is intrinsically linked to our sense of confidence and our feelings of self-worth. In the Self-Doubt Chair, we explored the negative impact that self-doubt and toxic silence can have on ourselves and our organizations. In the Detect Chair, we develop the antidote to this mindset. We learn to overcome our fear, break our silence, acknowledge our power and take the first step to speak our truth with conviction, diplomacy, and respect.

In the Detect Chair, we begin to develop our assertiveness. We learn to stand up for our own rights and speak our mind whilst also respecting the needs of others. This requires an ability to:
a) express our ideas and feelings in an open, direct and honest manner.
b) stay calm, be curious, ask questions and separate facts from opinions
c) take responsibility for ourselves and our reactions without blaming
or judging others
d) create healthy boundaries and make sure they are respected
e) commit to finding a solution when conflict arises

Many misunderstandings at home and in organizations result from our dysfunctional communication. We’re all guilty of this. When we avoid facing our differences openly and speaking up, they get brushed under the carpet, little ticking time bombs, ready to explode at any time in the future.

It really does take courage to proactively address our raw feelings and our unspoken issues but it is the only way to keep our organizations and families emotionally ‘clean’ and healthy.

Photograph: Malala Yousafzai

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