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The 4 Times You Should Say Exactly What You Think

Image via Alias Ching/

The week after Thanksgiving I had the privilege of hearing Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner speak to a group of Treasury employees and contractors.  Someone asked him what he thought were things that were really important for his successor to do/think about. 

I’m going to paraphrase what he said, but one of the pieces of advice he offered his successor, who we now know is former Obama Chief of Staff Jack Lew, was to make sure “you hire and surround yourself with people who will tell you the things you really need to hear:  the stuff that may even piss you off and that upon first hearing you might dismiss because you don’t agree. “

Geithner’s advice is widely supported.  While not specifically focused on the importance of sharing the tough stuff, a Forbes article outlines 6 reasons employees must speak up to thrive at work.  The reasons include things like having influence, enhancing performance, strengthening personal brand, commanding respect, career acceleration, and creating unexpected opportunities. 

Sounds great, right?  Maybe.  Likely.  And, before you stop reading to go exhume all those unhad conversations and spend the rest of your day telling everyone what you really think, take another minute and consider the following:

When to Share Inner Voice:

  • When you've thought about your intent.  If your intent in sharing Inner Voice is to complain or vent don’t do it.  Well, do it, just go find a safe place/ear to get that “venting” out of your system so you can then discern what well-intentioned Inner Voice conversation needs to be had with the person or persons who most need to hear it.
  • When you're not attached to an outcome.  If you plan to share Inner Voice as a tactic to try and get your way or enforce your agenda, reconsider.  It’s tough to share something that is important to you without being attached to an outcome – it takes practice.  This said, it’s critically important to making sure the person with whom you are speaking can actually hear your Inner Voice.  If s/he feels you are sharing Inner Voice in order to “get something” they may feel like you are trying to manipulate them and you could end up making things worse. 
  • When you're not triggered or emotionally hijacked.  My husband would say “act, don’t react.”  Better to be in a balanced and centered place when you have something important to share – otherwise people won’t hear you.  Rants don’t work.  Well-intentioned Inner Voice conversations can.  Even if you don’t get the outcome you are looking for you WILL feel better for having summoned the courage to speak your truth.  And you never know how what you had to say may make a difference later on. 
  • When you accept Inner Voice doesn’t come with a guarantee.  While we find most of the time Inner Voice results in a positive outcome, it’s important to recognize there is some risk involved in summoning the courage and then having the tough conversation.  The adages “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “high-risk, high-reward” come to mind here. It’s about sharing the good stuff, too. Lest you think Inner Voice is only about sharing the tough stuff, it’s also about having the courage to share the good stuff that we equally often don’t share for fear of sounding touchy feely, coming across as soft, or feeling uncomfortable. Acknowledging people for no reason other than you are inspired to do so is also an example of sharing Inner Voice.  Tip:  if your acknowledgement isn’t authentic, don’t do it!

The net-net: sharing Inner Voice takes what’s been in monologue into dialogue and as a result can fundamentally change the conversation.  Once we change the conversation we create new possibilities for our relationships, our work, and our lives. 

Image via Alias Ching/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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