Here’s my greatest career regret. Don’t make the same mistake.

It’s not any one particular event or moment. Rather, it’s something I’ve done almost every day of my career. And I’ve suffered for years because of it.

I failed to speak up.

If you’re like me, you often bite your tongue when you should speak up. Especially when you disagree. Probably because we all have a natural human desire to be liked and not be seen as disagreeable. 

Many times I’ve been in a meeting with a room full of people and I’ve felt the urge to speak up, but I think to myself, “There are a bunch of smart people in this room and nobody is saying what I’m thinking. Perhaps I’ll keep my mouth shut.” However, the reality is, others are waiting for someone else to say it first.

I can trace back my timidity to childhood. I spent the first ten years of my life with a single parent—my mother. She was nurturing and loving, and a great mom. But she was also protective and cautious. Eventually, my mom married and I got a stepdad. He was bold and adventurous. That influence helped a lot. Nevertheless, I struggled to overcome that timidity for years. 

A good friend of mine always talks warmly about his dad. One thing his dad told him was, “Son, I never want to hear that you started a fight. However, I never want to hear that you ran away from one either.” Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! But this mindset has served him well. He’s bold, not timid. And I admire that.

I’ve pushed myself in recent years to speak up. Not sheepishly, but with conviction. The good news is, I’ve gained a lot. Now I probably speak up too much. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth many times. I guess I need to learn tact as well.

But here’s the thing: the more I’ve discussed this with other people, I’ve discovered it’s not just me. It’s a lot of people. People are afraid to speak up. 

How often have you sat in large meetings and only 2 or 3 people are doing the talking, while the rest of the people just sit there? Those quiet people are definitely thinking something. Perhaps something important. But they are too afraid to speak up.

If you are failing to speak up, these are my words to you:

Don’t sit silently. Don’t be afraid to speak. Don’t let an important thought go unexpressed. Speak up. The world needs your input. You might just solve the problem. You might just save the company millions of dollars and hundreds of man-hours by being the voice of reason.

What you may not realize, is that when you do speak up, people appreciate that you actually have an opinion. Even if they don’t agree with you, they’ll respect you.

If you’re a manager, I suggest that, before every meeting, you announce to the room:

“Before we get started, I just want to state that everyone in this room is important or you wouldn’t be here. We need your input. Don’t be hesitant. Feel free to disagree with anything. Just say it. We want your point of view. Speak up.”

The world would be a better place if most of us weren’t so timid. 

That said, there are some of you that talk too much. You are combative, obnoxious and just won’t shut up. You need to pipe down so others can speak. 

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