I was on a 45-minute conference call this morning with 18 colleagues from different continents. No appointed presenters or designated speakers. We were just randomly sharing ideas and thoughts around how to move a global initiative forward. 15 minutes in, I started to talk and shared my two cents in a straight-forward yet thoughtful way. I kept talking for about 10 minutes and then pass it over to someone else.
If this happened 10 years ago when I just moved to Toronto, I would never have spoken up unless I had my key messages developed, lined up and I rehearsed them in my head for over 20 times, but by then, people would have already move on to the next topics, and have left me there high and dry in my own well validated thoughts.
There is an old Chinese saying “Silence is Golden”. How embarrassing it would be if I’d said something stupid. It’s just that much easier and safer if I can keep my mouth shut and simply be perceived as humble and invisible. At least people would think I’m mysterious, but no, in the western world, that’s not how people think about you. As a matter of matter, people think you have no opinion of your own on anything or whatsoever.
Luckily, one value that I have always been holding close to my heart is to be honest. So I shared my frustration and my culture background with my MBA classmates and my colleagues at work. Sometimes vulnerability is the best way to show strength. My gorgeous, outgoing and extrovert Canadian fellows showed nothing but support and encouragement to me, and told me that speaking up is more important than no-speaking-at-all in western world. Everyone deserves to be heard because we are all different and unique. It’s critical to contribute one’s perspectives to a group discussions so better solutions can be found.
Nowadays, I do speak at all kinds of meetings, events and seminars, way more often than what I have expected out of myself. I take time to listen, to think, to strategize, to package my thoughts into a story, and then off I go! Many time it’s not about what you say, but how you say it and how you position it so that it has bigger impact on business or people.
Silence is not gold, but attentive silence is gold because it requires wisdom and patience.
Don’t speak if you don’t know what you are talking about, but do stand up and speak if you know you have something valuable to offer.
Speak up or shut up, that is the question!