Speak Up and Be Counted — Themes from a Recent Workshop

This was the topic of my workshop at the NAAAP National Convention this past Friday, which was met with warm reception by the participants.  Many discussed their challenges making their points in a group and especially in the company of managers or more senior executives.  I’d like to convey some points I made at this workshop:

1)    We act out of our belief systems. Asian culture strongly believes that those higher in the social/work hierarchy have more say.  They are expected to dictate to individuals in lower levels, who are then expected to receive, not question and execute. These behaviors start at home, extends to our schooling and then to our work. It is logical, therefore, that Asian professionals have a greater tendency to “freeze up” when they need to communicate with higher-ups. The opportunity is to change our belief system to align with American corporate culture.  Our work culture rewards individuals who have points of views that can be substantiated with data and facts and who will add to the discussion.

2)    Prepare before meetings.  A person who has challenges speaking up in meetings should go to every meeting understanding:The objective of the meeting – content that will be discussed

  1. Who is running the meeting and that person’s objective
  2. Other attendees and their respective objectives
  3. Identify topics that will likely be discussed
  4. Identify your POV for those topics – WRITE THEM DOWN
  5. When the opportunity arises, raise your hand before you are ready. You must take the leap

3)    Be socially prepared.  Social integration and being known for who you are (not just what you do) is incredibly important for advancement.  Be prepared to socially engage:

  1. Have your personal introduction ready – your name, position, how long you’ve been at the company and a positive statement about your current work and how it is addressing a company objective.  This is something you would use whenever you meet a new colleague or senior manager
  2. Have stories ready before and after weekends – we know co-workers are always asking about plans for an upcoming weekend on Fridays and what we did for the weekend on Monday.  To be part of the social fabric, it’s important that you have stories ready (events you went to, kids’ activities, home projects, special holidays, etc).  And remember to ask them!

Speaking up starts with a state of mind that believes what we have to say, matters.  Believe that.  It may take practice, perhaps a lot of practice before you feel more comfortable.  That’s ok.  It’s ok to feel foolish if you’ve said something you thought you shouldn’t have said.  No one else remembers it the way you do.  Let it go.  Instead of berating yourself, congratulate yourself on your courage.  Keep giving yourself positive reinforcements.  That kind of thinking is a critical ingredient for making change and getting your voice heard.