Monday, March 10, 2014

Gathering The Courage To Speak Your Truth

Someone once told me that she used to speak to her dolls growing up.

"Every time I opened my mouth, they told me to shut up," she said of her family. "I knew that my dolls would listen to me at the very least."

I remember how amazing it was to watch Oprah on TV. In my home, my school, my little community we did not talk openly about anything controversial. If there was a problem, the response was "shhh."

But Oprah was the most courageous human being I had ever seen. She actually was able to talk about it. Her pain, the pain of others...she got the world to open up and realize that emotions are real and that the pain waits for you.

I remember her saying that over and over. You can run, you can hide, you can deny, but the pain waits. You have to deal with it.

In graduate school and beyond I studied the pain of the organization. I really liked marketing a lot, in fact I love branding as many of you who know me know. But I kept on getting dragged into organizational behavior, dynamics, employee communication and the reasons for the lack thereof.

Here is what I learned.

People are not hard to reach. They spend many hours at work, they bring their brains and bodies to the effort, and they have opinions they want to share. If the organization can tolerate an extended adjustment curve -- based on my experience, at least 3-5 years -- there is a very good chance that a new norm can take hold.

The social media expert Shel Holtz once gave federal communicators a great piece of advice about engagement. He said this in a training session I attended:

"Always go as far as you can and then stop and explain you can go no farther."

Every shred of evidence I have accumulated on credibility suggests that Holtz's advice was accurate.

We are living in a new age of transparency and openness, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether it feels good or not.

When we speak our truth with courage, within the limits of professional courtesy and appropriateness, we are serving the community. 

I hope to always do that, because it's what gives my career meaning.

* As usual all opinions are my own.