When to Speak Up in a Group: A 5-Step Model

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· Should I say something?

· I disagree, but let’s see if someone else speaks up.

· That was a clueless remark! Why doesn’t somebody say so?

· They’re not seeing the bigger picture in all the back and forth debate!

Have you ever had similar thoughts at a board or staff meeting, PTA or church group, or family conference? Did you have something to add but held back because you weren’t sure how your comment would be received? Did you wish later that you’d spoken or wonder why someone else hadn’t?

I’ve had embarrassing moments speaking up in groups and seen others experience eye-rolling or harsh remarks for bringing up taboo topics. I’ve also seen questions, suggestions, and comments received gratefully — questions that clarified, suggestions that transformed a group debate into collaborative dialogue, and comments that summarized and helped the group see its progress and understand where it needed to go next.

Naturally, I’d rather be offering helpful, clarifying, and cogent comments. And that’s where the doubt creeps in.

· Is my offering useful?

· Will others think it’s off track?

· I don’t want to give offense.

When to Speak Up in a Group

Some years ago, I learned a 5-step model that helped me decide when to speak up in group settings. I share the steps here hoping they’ll be equally useful to you. They grew out of Arnold Mindell’s work in processing difficult group energy. Thank you to Joy Jacobs of Peterborough, NH for sharing this model with me so many years ago.

When speaking up in a group, it’s all about self-awareness and choice.

1) I have a reaction.

It could be a physical, emotional, or mental reaction, and it just happens. That’s not accurate, what he said. He’s missing the big picture.

2) I notice the reaction with awareness.

Is it a strong reaction? Am I angry, fearful, curious, interested, hopeful, surprised? Wow, I notice I’m getting red in the face, perspiring, thinking he’s missed something important. I’m afraid to say anything because he’s so well respected in the community.

3) I decide if I want to bring it up (intervene) and whether I can manage the feedback.

This is the choice point. Whether I bring it up or not, either way is perfectly okay. I treat this like a research project, asking myself, what’s the worst that could happen? If I can handle that, then I go for it.

If I decide not to speak up, I allow myself to be interested in what I couldn’t do. I get very curious about what stopped me. Maybe the downside was too steep. Sometimes I wait to see if anyone else speaks, or I listen for how the conversation unfolds and look for a better place to jump in.

4) I bring it up.

When I choose to speak, how I intervene is important to me. I want to do so respectfully and with a sense of curiosity. I often ask a question or summarize what I’m hearing, then ask a question. John, I hear you saying we need $500,000 for the renovations. Does this number include the cost for future renovations, or just this phase? I’m concerned about future commitments. Can you speak to those as well?

Another way to enter a group conversation, especially if you think you might encounter pushback, is to “feed the monster” as Mindell calls it. Feeding the monster includes acknowledging a position you don’t necessarily agree with, as in: I know we have already invested a lot of financial resources in this project, which makes us all the more intent on moving forward. I understand the urgency, and … I think this is the exact point we need to stop and be sure that we aren’t getting in over our heads. (The phrase “I know we have already invested a lot of financial resources in this project” is what feeds the monster.)

5) I notice the feedback with awareness.

Once I speak up, I try to notice the feedback I get from the group. If I’m contradicted, I listen and ask more questions, or stand corrected. If most of the group disagrees with me, I decide what choices I make from here. If my intervention is received favorably I notice that, too. All with awareness and from a place of discovery — this is what protects me. How fascinating! — is my mantra.

What do you think of the model? Will you try it? What would you add? I’d love to hear how your research goes. Please send me a note, or comment below.

Good ki in your practice!

Photo credit / 123RF Stock Photo

Written by

Judy Ringer is the author of Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace and Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict.

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