“Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon was a brilliant man, but the quote above is simply common sense if taken at face value. What captured my thoughts about the quote was what I notice so often in my own life – those who speak up are heard.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease…stand up and be counted…these are other ways of saying the same thing. I have had this work for me and against me. I speak up, but not always loudly enough or at the right times.
As a youngster, I was often called ‘teacher’s pet.’ This was mainly because I couldn’t stand an unanswered question. Our teacher would be standing at the front of the room and ask a question. The students would often stare at her/him as though they were speaking a foreign language. I got to the point of where I would wait to raise my hand to make sure others had an opportunity to do so, but if no one did and I knew the answer, my hand went up. Much like musicians can’t stand to hear a song cut off in mid-note, I couldn’t stand to have a question hanging in the air…unanswered.
As an adult, this habit in me has continued. I don’t want to come off like a know it all, but it strikes me as disrespectful to leave a teacher hanging while everyone stares at them or off into space or studiously at their papers and books in front of them. Times that I have been in the teaching position, and have had that occur to me have left me feeling frustrated – do the students know the answer? Did I teach it correctly? Won’t someone speak to me!? So, I wait and see if someone else will volunteer, then my hand goes up…much like a person who has offered their hand for a ‘five’ only to watch the person walk away – I can’t stand to leave the teacher hanging.
However, this can bite one in the butt. Sometimes, the person doesn’t really want a response – I have found this to be true in business meetings. Or perhaps the person leading the meeting wants the response, but the others in the room don’t – either because they are afraid that what you say will upset the person in charge or they want the meeting to just be over with and if people speak, this leads to conversation and takes time.
At one of my previous jobs, the head of the company was coming for a meet and greet – basically a chance for him to hear from those in the trenches as to what was working and what wasn’t. Supposedly a time for the front line to speak up while the generals stayed quiet. However, prior to the meeting, the generals were busy sounding out the troops and trying to guide them as to what might be okay to say and what might be better left unsaid. This was all done in the guise of the issue that the commander-in-chief was a numbers guy and if you said something you better be able to back it up with numbers. So the generals were looking out for you and would provide you with said numbers or encourage you to let it slide until more research was done because the commander-in-chief had been known to get a bit fussy at times. Sounded like hogwash to me and like generals trying to cover their backsides.
So, I went to said meeting determined just to keep my thoughts to myself. I didn’t want to rock the boat any more than the next guy. Plus, surely there were plenty of others who would speak up. HA! I got there and it was just like being back in school again – a question would be asked and all of my co-workers stared off into space with smiles plastered on to their faces. Obviously they were just as concerned about speaking up as I was. So, since the commander-in-chief had come a long way to see us, I felt like he needed something. I tentatively spoke up about something that I knew our customers really liked. I mean, you can’t go wrong with positive feedback, right?
Right! He was thrilled – turned out what I brought up was something he was kind of keen on as well. This continued as he asked questions and received few responses. I would wait, then I would jump in. Afterwards, I was congratulated by others for talking and he thanked me for my input. Phew…I felt like I had traversed the proverbial mine field without getting blown up! Well, at least until I stopped by to see my General, but that is another story…
At any rate, it is very true that only those that speak up are heard. Take the plunge – speak up and make a difference! And show respect to the head of the classroom or meeting by being an active participant! I promise, they will appreciate your courage and input.