Have any of you ever, for one reason or another, been afraid to speak up and say what is on your mind, to give someone your opinion or thoughts about a certain subject? Are you afraid of the consequences of speaking up?
In this post, I will explain ways to speak up even if you are afraid or apprehensive about addressing an issue or exposing your feelings. It’s important to set your intention before entering into a conversation that could create conflict or hurt feelings.
Many times if you notice someone is upset by what you have said you respond, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” When you make a similar statement you are shifting the focus from the person who is upset to yourself. You are not asking for forgiveness or trying to make amends. You are actually shifting the focus so you don’t have to offer a sincere apology. Also, the person who is upset does not feel heard and nothing has been done to ease the pain. I will also cover how to set your intentions for the best possible outcome.
I will also go through the information needed to create a clear and effective message.
Jenny & Frank
Frank a very opinionated, middle-aged, slightly overweight man working as a paralegal in Jenny’s law office. He always wore a short-sleeved, usually white, dress shirt that always needed ironing.
As Jenny walked into the lunch room where Frank was eating his lunch she noticed his shirttail hung out on one side, with a dribble of sauce down the front.
He always seemed to be a source of irritation to Jenny, so she tried, on a regular basis, to avoid him as often as possible, but she was late to lunch today.
Still trying to maintain her good intentions and cheery attitude. She tried to ignore him until he said, “Honey, you really should wear fall colors, which bring out the green in your eyes instead of the lighter colors which make you look washed-out.” (toxic message)
Jenny had been practicing “Living with Intention.” She gave Frank a smile. She could feel that it was forced, but it was a smile.
She took several deep breaths trying to calm her emotions and her thoughts and hoping that her voice and body language would show good intent. She finally managed to say with a soft voice, “Thank You,” all-the-while wanting to “knock his block off” but not wanting to show her negative intention.
What is Speaking Up with Intention?
We have all heard the saying, “Think Before You Speak? Have your parents or teacher told you to choose your words wisely because they might come back to bite you? Speaking impulsively, speaking whatever pops into your mind, before you think is a bad habit that can get you in trouble and hurt others. Impulsive words can damage your relationships and your career. You can apologize but you can never take your words back. Your words are always in the other person’s memory.
If you are a person with an impulsive disorder, like ADHD, create a habit of counting to 10 before you speak. That slows your brain down so you can think. Build a new habit.
Intention is defined as the purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct. In other words, you set your intention before beginning to speak. You determine the effect you want to have on the situation or other person.
An intention is a guiding principle of how you want to live your life. It’s not a goal. Intentions come from the heart. They are emotion driven and evoke feeling and purpose.
Why is it important to speak up with intent?
When you express yourself clearly with intent you reap several benefits. You stand a better chance of being understood, which leads to cooperation from others.
On a personal level, you get your needs meet. In relationships speaking up with intent clearly helps to establish closer connections and enhance intimacy.
If you want cooperation from others, either personal or professional, it’s important for them to understand what you are saying or asking for.
If you are one that is afraid to speak up, you run the risk of allowing your emotions to build up on the inside until you explode or say something at the wrong time with the wrong intentions and pay the price. In some cases, the price may be just the loss of a potential friend. Another case may be the loss of a job or a personal relationship.
Giving A Complete Message with Intention
Speaking up with intent also means giving clear and concise information. When you extend the full message you are giving clear information about what you have observed, your opinion, the conclusions you have drawn, your feelings, and what you need :
- Observations: You report only what your senses tell you, what you have personally observed – facts you have experienced, heard about, or read.
- Opinions: The conclusions you personally have drawn based on what you have heard, read and observed about what you feel is really going on and why.
- Conclusions: Your personal value judgments, beliefs, and theories based on your personal observations.
- Feelings: You give your emotional response to the event or situation based on your personal observation. When you allow others to know what saddens, pleases, anger, and frightens you, they develop greater empathy for and understanding of you, and they are more apt to modify their behavior to meet your needs.
Remember, feeling statements are not observations or opinions.
- Needs: You speak up about what you want or think you must have in a given situation. Needs are not judgemental or derogatory or blaming. Needs are simple statements about what you want and need.
You are the expert in what you have observed, your opinion, feelings, and definitely what you need. Nobody can read your mind. If you don’t speak up nobody will know. No two people have the same wants and needs. It’s very important to speak up clearly. Other people care.
It is a message that is expressed with part of the information missing out of negative feelings for revenge or to hurt the other person, intentionally or unintentionally or out of fear or lack of planning.
There are times when a speaker is not prepared and only gives, perhaps, his or her feelings or needs, but does not fill in the observations, opinions, or conclusions. In this case, much of the pertinent information is missing and can result in a failure to communicate.
“Honey, you really should wear fall colors, which bring out the green in your eyes instead of the lighter colors which make you look washed-out,” Frank said to Jenny out of the blue with no other information.
Franks comment was one of several that felt very much like the bullying she had received in school. They did not share any other conversation. His comment was one of many she had received from him: you’re late, you’re going to miss your opportunity if you don’t hurry up, I can’t believe you forgot the meeting this morning. All these statements contained a toxic element criticism.
Jenny Sets Her Intentions and Talks To Frank
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Jenny had been working on “Setting Her Intentions” for a while. She found it difficult to speak up for herself, but she was beginning to see the need.
In every school she attended from Kindergarten on, there was always, at least, one guy that gave her a hard time. Today, they would call it bullying. Her mother used to tell her it was because they liked her, but she didn’t really buy that scenario.
Now, a junior attorney in a prestigious law firm, here was Frank, not a friend, mentor, or peer always telling her what she was doing wrong or what she needed to do differently.
“Is it ever going to stop,” she wondered. Then she thought of the class she was attending about how to be more assertive. One of the first classes was on “Setting Intentions.” She had been working on setting her intentions through prayer and meditation. She was beginning to feel more confident, but she had not tried setting her intentions for a personal conversation.
“Well, I guess it’s time. I need to talk to Frank. Sometimes I’d prefer to “knock his block off,” but then I’d be doing just what he accuses me of. No, I’m going to do this the right way. I’m going to set my intentions for good. She thought about the verse that she prayed every morning.”
Psalm 19:14. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
She found a quiet place to sit and meditate. She went through the questions on her list to decide what she wanted her intention to be. She decides on three questions.
What would you like to build, create, or nurture in your life?
She wanted to create and nurture peace and self-confidence. She knew that she would have to confront Frank, calmly and appropriately in order to build her confidence. She would like to have a good working relationship with Frank without fearing his sarcastic comments.
What would you like to let go of?
She knew she had to let go of the fear of confronting people, for her career and for her personal peace and self-confidence. She couldn’t allow “bullies” to push her around anymore.
Who would you like to forgive in your life?
Jenny also knew she had to forgive Frank and all the other guys who had bullied her over the years. She could feel that the unforgiveness was eating away at any peace she had.
The Intentions she set were “peace” and “courage.”
She began writing out what she was going to say. She also decided to ask him out for coffee after work so they could talk some place other than work. There was a sidewalk coffee shop on the walking mall outside their office building. She tentatively set the date for the next night. She knew if she waited too long she’d talk herself out of it.
As she began writing out what she would say to Frank, she emailed him asking him to meet her for coffee the next afternoon. She got an immediate reply back confirming the day, time, and place.
As she read the email, fear began to instantly rise on the inside. Her chest began to tighten up, her stomach began to hurt and she suddenly became dizzy with an internal sense that something horrible was going to happen. She feared he might misinterpret the nature of her invitation.
She sat quietly for a few moments, breathing in deeply and letting the air out slowly as she rehearsed in her mind, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
She repeated the breathing and the verse over and over until she felt the fear lessen.
She wrote out what she intended to say to Frank.
“Frank, I asked you here for a particular reason,” she said with as much confidence as she could muster.
“Oh really. I thought you asked me because you found me so attractive,” he said sarcastically.
Jenny paused briefly, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
“I experience comments, like the one you just made, on almost a daily basis, comments about my clothes, my work, whether I’m late, on time, or early. You always have a comment,” she continued.
“Oh, you actually noticed?” he commented.
Again Jenny paused for a deep breath.
“The comment you made to me the other day about the color of my clothes really hurt.”
He looked at her quizzically but didn’t comment.
“Not that it is any of your business what clothes I wear, but this is the way my mother taught me to dress. She was the head litigator in this office until she died suddenly of a heart attack a couple of years before I started (observation). I was still in college finishing my degree. She prepared me to follow in her footsteps as an attorney. We had different last names so I don’t make reference to her being my mother. She has left some very big shoes to fill and I would like to fill them without using the fact that she was my mother (opinion). The one thing I do follow her in is her dress. If you were around when she was her you would notice I dress pretty much as she did. That is one tradition that she left me that I can do now (conclusion),” Jenny said in a confident voice.
Frank squirmed in his seat like he was a little uncomfortable, but he did not say anything.
Jenny continued, “Your comments are very hurtful, especially when it refers to the way I dress. My intention is to make my mother proud of me in every way I can, which includes my dress (feelings).
Frank looked down at his coffee cup but didn’t say anything.
“I need you to refrain from making the cutting, sarcastic comments to me at work. I know you are one of the best paralegals we have at the firm and I would like to have a good working relationship with you (good intent),” Jenny said looking into Frank’s eyes as he raised his head.
Frank cleared his throat, “I know who you are. I worked with your mother. She would be so proud of you.”
“Then, why the comments?” Jenny asked.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you, I mean really talk to you, since the first day you started with the firm, but I’ve been afraid to say anything (contaminated message). So, I guess, I just threw out sarcastic comments. Please forgive me for hurting you, that was not my intention.”
“So what was your intention,” Jenny asked.
“I guess I was hoping you’d call a meeting just like this so we could talk. I was afraid you’d think I was just a stupid old man. Several times I went to work with the intent of asking you to meet me here to talk, but every time I chickened out. Your mother and I had a relationship. I was going to ask her to marry me, but convinced myself that she wouldn’t want a man who was just a paralegal so I broke off the relationship (fear of speaking up).”
“And I thought I was the only one who was afraid of speaking up,” Jenny said with a softer expression on her face as she reached out and touched his hand.
Jenny’s talk with Frank is an example of how to “Set Your Intentions” and carry them out. Yes, Jenny was very nervous, to the point of being sick at one point. But, with prayer and meditation, she gained the strength to answer the questions that would help her set her intentions.
Jenny gained self-confidence as she engaged Frank in a conversation following her plan. She also gained information that she never expected, which helped to establish a closer working relationship.
 Davis, Martha, Ph.D. Fanning, Paleg, Kim, Ph.D., and Fanning, Patrick How To Communicate Workbook: Powerful Strategies for Effective Communication at Work and Home. 2nd ed. New York: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2004