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Staying Silent Or Speaking Up By Jeanette Bronee


December tends to be a very stressful month for most. Holiday preparations and the pressure of end-of-year results don't go hand in hand very well. And I think we all know that during times of stress, discussions can get heated, and disrespectful things can be said.

Do we stay silent, or do we speak up? Staying silent can create an inner conflict, but speaking up can cause outer conflict.


We have all been in situations where the silence in the room speaks louder than words. Your toes curl in your shoes, and the inner cringe would love to leave the room or, better yet, be invisible. Everyone waits for someone else to say something, to break the silence that makes us perhaps feel safe at the moment but also complicit, wondering if we should address or ignore the elephant in the room. Or we are the ones hoping someone else will have our back and say something.

We have conversations about speaking truth to power, we are encouraged to set boundaries, and whistle-blowers are celebrated for their courage. And yet, most stay silent because we know that speaking up might put us in a position of conflict with the people around us and the people we care about. We know that when we see something that might not be right, or something is said that's disrespectful, or when people in a meeting are being ignored or muted, their voices should be heard. And when we are the ones being bullied at work, do we stand up for ourselves the way we would for our family and friends?

Saying to someone that they should learn to speak up is a privilege not all have. So instead we can focus on supporting each other in cultivating a culture where speaking up is not a privilege but a possibility for building stronger relationships.

From team to top, there are situations where speaking up or staying silent is the difference between a healthy culture and a dysfunctional one. There's a whole range between a culture where people feel safe, belong, and engage with care in their work and collaboration with each other to a culture where people disengage, do their minimum effort job to simply not get in trouble, and go home when time is up. Some feel their job is not in danger when they speak up, and some risk getting fired.


During the 15 years of working with people one-on-one wanting to learn how to cope better with stress and prevent burnout, there was always some aspect of interpersonal relationship conflict. Still, today, when I speak with people who are unhappy in their jobs, it's because of relationships that make them feel unseen, unheard, undervalued, and unsupported in their growth, all the way to toxic relationships that are directly aggressive in undermining someone's success. During times of layoffs and more being asked of fewer people, competition and conflict arise. Not just among team members but also among leadership.

We know from research that culture breaks down because we don't know how to work with conflict in a way that builds stronger relationships. Communication is part of all our relationships, even when we don't think of it that way. For example, customers leave companies because they don't feel their problems are heard, cared about, or solved. Which essentially means there's a conflict because of unmet needs.

The real elephant in the room is not what's unsaid. The real issue is learning to listen with intent and care. Learning to pause and ask questions with curiosity and courage encourages us to focus on inclusive problem-solving and collective well-being.


We cannot do this if we don't do it together. Humans have survived together for centuries, and we still need to do so. And by the way, elephants might be huge, and it looks like they can stand up for themselves, but they only thrive together, too. Actually, they desperately need each other, and so do we.

Imagine a culture where we pause before reacting and instead respond with intention and care. Instead of protecting ourselves from blame, we seek to solve problems together. Instead of winning alone, we succeed together. We cannot grow alone; we need each other, and if we can enter a conflict with that in mind, ––what could change?

A Culture of Care® means everyone matters and people are engaged because they are invested in the work or each other to co-create a culture where everyone works better together. That motivates us to speak up in a conflict because it helps us build a culture where we connect, communicate, and collaborate to make work better together.

Rather than a culture where well-being programs mean we encourage people to take better care of themselves, we reframe culture as collective well-being; we can build an ecosystem of human relationships, and we can create a work environment where everyone feels safe to engage in conversations that transform conflict into connection and collaboration means culture where we can talk about the elephant in the room without fear of retaliation.

—Because our voices matter.

For more insight on self-care and well-being at work, visit jeanettebronee.com

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