Often we hear to be the ‘bigger person’ is to walk away from conflict, but when is it important to fight for what is right? Over the weekend, I was at a reunion when a friend ridiculed me for being a vegetarian, stuffing 2 slices of salami in her mouth and taunting me to try it claiming it was just beetroot. A few others chimed in with ‘marbled beetroot’ as they stood there laughing. I was left feeling insulted, mustering a smile and politely excusing myself from the conversation, an old familiar feeling from childhood, being ridiculed by a strong character for standing in my truth overcame me, leaving me speechless and hurt. I tossed all night about my reaction, why didn’t I say anything? What was holding me back? What is there to feel shame for? I am scared of confrontation? I rehearsed in my mind, replaying that scene and having a response like “that is insulting, I would think a friend would be able to respect the differences in our lifestyle choices’ or something more sassy like “you don’t see me offering you ginger juice proclaiming it’s tequila?” But of course, my composure is what spoke the loudest without wanting to make a scene. Now I’m ponder in situations like this, how do we hold people accountable for their actions? How do we allow people who feel unfairly treated to have a say?

After some research, it’s remarkable how often this scene plays out in the workplace. Studies consistently show that employees are reluctant to speak up, and are even hardwired to remain silent, with 50 per cent of employees keeping quiet at work. Why is this the case, and how can we help people voice their opinions at work more effectively?

“Suppressing issues can be painful. People get exhausted. They don’t get to be their authentic selves,” the researchers explain.

Bottling our feeling, shrugging things off and sweeping things under the carpet lead to consequences in our health, mental and physical. This avoidance builds up stress which depletes you of energy, increases chronic pain and puts a toll on your nervous system. When we suppress our feelings, we bottle the good and bad together- not just the negative feelings but it desensitizes us from feeling at all, operating without sensitivity is a defence mechanism for heartache and shame but also dries up the joy and love from our lives.

Setting up the environment for authentic, open conversations is key, this allows for psychological safety. If the others didn’t chime in and it didn’t feel like an ambush, perhaps I would’ve have been more direct with her. Notice in the workplace how many echo chambers there are, do the leaders expect constant agreement? This will narrow any diversity of thought and will skew decision making, taking of different points of view and building on through an interdisciplinary lens makes more much better strategic decisions. The study featured in Forbes goes to cite 32% of employees are afraid of putting their own ideas forward.

How can we create workplace cultures that communicate with respect and value collaboration by:

Inclusivity

Encourage junior members of the team for their input

“Let me know your thoughts, it doesn’t have to be a full proposal, we can brainstorm and build from each other’s ideas”

Diversity

Praise those who disagree, it takes a lot of courage to go against the grain

“Thanks so much for raising this, I didn’t consider it and it’s very valuable to get a different perspective”

Communication

Empathize with those feeling unsure, acknowledge their hesitation and offer your help

“You’re in the deep end and it looks like you’re uncomfortable, I’m here to support you, let me know what you need”

Our mindful leadership program goes through each step with the main focus on practical application and embodiment, listening to the physical cues and sensing the environment. It’s important that everyone feels that their truth can be heard, of course the context is also something to consider. With my friend at the party, given it was after a few drinks for her I knew she didn’t have the awareness to be sensitive at that point, and I wasn’t looking for a fight nor was supressing my feelings an option. Instead, speaking to her later about it and letting her know how about my upset we resolved it with greater understanding me to nurture the friendship.

More than a third (35%) of employees lack confidence to ask for a pay rise, while a quarter (25%) fear asking their line manager for time off that they are owed

Other confidence related issues in connection to their jobs include: ‘afraid of putting own ideas forward’ (32%), client meetings (29%) or working closely with a superior on daily a basis (27%)

One in five (20%) consider themselves as ‘a push-over’ and a further 20% have missed out on a promotion because of their lack of self belief

33% said smiling was the key to getting ahead in the workplace while 27% said ‘power-dressing’ is key to persuasion.