How to Speak Your Mind and Not Piss People Off
Much of my work as a public relations and communications professional involves creating concise messages and teaching business leaders how to convey the best messages to various audiences. My friend, Graham Edwards recently posted a buzz about the importance of speaking up, noting that it is a catalyst for change. It generated a lot of discussion around shyness and negative consequences. Clearly, not everyone is comfortable to say what they really think, particularly at work where speaking your mind can get you on the bad side of your boss. There is certainly an art to being able to voice a potentially unpopular opinion and part of that is being able to choose the right time, method and audience. People tend to listen to what you have to say through their own filters which explains why some people are always offended while others are never offended. In a one-on-one conversation, it is easier to read your audience than if you are in a room full of people. It is definitely important to know when to speak as well as how to speak so you that you are heard and respected regardless of agreement. Here are some things to consider before you decide to voice your opinions.
Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.
- Jack Kerouac
When should you voice your opinion?
I am a pretty non-confrontational person by nature, but I will say what needs to be said if doing so will make a difference. There are times to speak and times to pass on the opportunity. Who should you not bother giving an opinion to? Generally speaking, anyone for whom your opinion will not matter or those who are incapable of being rational (even temporarily). They are as follows:
Narcissists: Narcissists are only interested in their own opinions and those that are in agreement with their own. They have no emotional capacity to care about anyone else’s feelings and your attempts to reason with them will likely be seen as offensive, if not completely stupid. They also tend to twist the meaning of your words into something you did not intend so that they can make you look worse than them. Anything you say that makes them angry can cause rage. If you are not inclined to put up with that drama, say nothing. Sometimes it’s better to just know that you are right. We don’t always have to prove it to everyone.
The Closed Minded: If the person on the receiving end is not inclined to listen, then don’t bother. People who are so committed to their opinions that they are incapable of hearing another side, will never accept what you have to say. A perfect example of this is when certain religious groups come knocking at your door to proselytize. If you do the same to them, nobody will be converted. It is only when one side is open to listening that opinions can be changed.
The Angry: Angry people are not in a position to listen. Never push anyone to listen to your side while they are in a heightened state of anger. It is pointless and will only cause an escalation of anger. Pick your moments carefully.
It's one thing to say, 'I don't like what you said to me and I find it rude and offensive,' but the moment you threaten violence in return, you've taken it to another level, where you lose whatever credibility you had.
- Salman Rushdie
How can you make your point without being offensive?
Avoid accusations: When expressing your opinions, never accuse the other side of having ill intentions. Nothing creates hostility more than inflammatory communication. Being accusatory will cause your opponent to shut you out.
Avoid character assassinations: Nobody will ever respond well to you if you insult them. Calling people names or telling people what their “problem” is, is really just another way to create hostility. Like I mentioned above, angry people don’t listen, so don’t say anything to anger people, even if you think they deserve it.
Ask, don’t tell: Rather than telling people what you think, try framing your opinion in a question. “Wouldn’t it be better if we…?” is a more respectful way of inviting discussion and allowing your thoughts to be heard than telling people what they should or should not do. Let’s face it. People like choices and nobody ever really likes to be told what to do.
Be as neutral as possible: I’m not sure if it’s the Canadian in me or the writer in me, but being emotionally attached to your opinions (in other words, being opinionated) will cause you to close your mind to the opinions of others. This prevents dialogue and nobody will listen to you or take you very seriously if you are unwilling to do the same.
Never say the other person is wrong: Everyone is entitled to their opinion and their ideas stem from their creativity, so when you tell people they are wrong, they tend to get defensive. Respect is a fundamental element of effective communication. Directly telling people that they are wrong is no way to convince people that you are right.
Don’t threaten or intimidate: Bullies and narcissists love to threaten and intimidate to get their way. You may gain some unwilling compliance this way, but it will be short lived because threats cause resentment and anger. Do you really need enemies?
The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.
- Bob Marley
What else do I need to consider in order to have my opinions heard?
Be a good example: As mentioned above, respect is the foundation for effective communication. People listen to people they respect. If you have a habit of showing respect for others, being trustworthy and honest, then your thoughts and opinions will matter enough to at least be considered.
Be confident: If you have something important to say, then state it with confidence. A wavering voice and a red face will be interpreted as weakness and a lack of commitment to your beliefs. You will not be taken seriously, if you do not take yourself seriously.
Lower the resonance of your voice: High pitched, squeaky voices are not pleasant to the ear. Try speaking from the diaphragm rather than the throat or nose. Deep, clear voices command more respect and get attention.
Speak clearly but don’t raise your voice: You don’t need to be loud to be heard. Enunciate without exaggerating your speech. Be loud enough to be heard, but don’t let yourself be seen as overbearing. Confident people do not yell and yelling will not command respect.
Look people in the eye: Nothing says untrustworthy like not looking people in the eye. A sincere and confident message needs eye contact.
Use confident body language: Your body language can really give you away, so practice a confident stance. Stand straight with your shoulders pinned back, your hips forward and arms at your side. Don’t put them on your hips (that’s bossy and confrontational), and don’t fold your arms across your chest (that's closed mindedness).
Don’t be a whiner: Dale Carnegie advised people to never condemn, criticize or complain. If you are known for these habits, then you will struggle to be liked, respected and heard. Nobody ever cares what a constant complainer has to say.
For those who have difficulty speaking their mind, it is important to remember that your opinions, thoughts and feelings are important, too. How you treat others will directly affect how people will perceive your expression of opinion. If you are essentially a good, respectful person, then you needn’t worry about how you will be perceived. Expect that people will respect your feelings and they most likely will.
Few public relations & communications specialists have as diverse a background as Renée Cormier. Add published author, employee engagement specialist, sales and marketing strategist, entrepreneur and educator to her list of accomplishments. In her career Renée has held leadership roles in sales and marketing, developed and implemented national marketing strategies and was responsible for teams as large as 28 strong. She brings a wide range of experience and talent to her work.
Renée really shines in marketing communications. She is known for developing and implementing comprehensive communications strategies and generating results through flawless implementation. With such strong business acumen, passion for her work and a natural talent for business strategy, Renée is definitely considered an important resource for her clients. Do you need help with your communications or public relations efforts? Contact Renée through her website.