Very early in my sales career I worked for a company with an interesting philosophy on motivating salespeople. I hadn’t work there very long and I was the newest member of the sales team. We were behind the planned sales goal about halfway through the year. During a sales meeting the General Sales manager announced an “incentive” plan to help motivate the sales team to higher performance. The “incentive” would work like this: if after 30 days we were still behind plan one salesperson would be fired. If after 60 days we will still behind plan 2 sales people would be fired. And on it would go each month until we were either back on plan or there were no salespeople left to fire.
It was never explained how it would be determined who was going to be fired but I figured I was a pretty strong candidate to get the first axe. 30 days flew by before we knew it. We were still well behind the plan. I came into work that morning expecting it to be a very short day.
The sales team was gathered in the meeting room waiting, and waiting, for the management team to enter the room. Finally the General Sales Manager’s boss showed up. He announced that no one would be fired…except the General Sales Manager.
That sure did lighten the mood in the room.
But it didn’t change the fact that we were working for a somewhat tyrannical company. The big boss was no piece of cake to work for either. As we entered December the company announced a new compensation structure for the sales team. During the busy parts of the year the sales team would be paid a base plus commission. During the slow parts of the year the sales team would be paid only a commission.
That would have been financial death to many of the salespeople on the team. So a meeting was arranged with Senior Management to discuss this plan. Somehow, to this day I do not understand how, I was elected to be the spokesperson for the sales team.
We met with the management team and they laid out their thinking on the change in the compensation structure. The head guy was very intimidating to most of the team but I was too stupid to realize I should be intimidated. So when the opportunity presented itself to speak up I laid out the concerns of the sales team.
Senior Management said they had not considered our “cash flow” concerns and asked if we would prefer to stay with the status quo. There were literally shouts of yes and hell yes from the room. Senior Management kind of shrugged and said okay then, we’ll leave well enough alone.
The next morning I was a hero to the sales team for having the courage to speak out against the big bosses ideas. Never for a moment did I consider that I was speaking “against” anyone. I was merely expressing, in as a professional manner as I could muster, our opinion that it would be very challenging for many of the sales team to pay their bills during the slow season.
I wasn’t challenging a person, I was challenging the proposed process. I choose my words very very carefully so that it was clear that it was a process issue. Not an issue with the person proposing the process.
It was a valuable lesson to me early in my career. When we stick to the facts it’s easier to find the courage to speak up. When we leave as much emotion as possible out of the conversation it becomes easier for the person we are speaking with to accept what we are saying.
Many of the challenges we face in our lives can be traced back to poor or limited communication. When we speak in terms of the other person’s interests, with respect for their point of view, even the most difficult conversation becomes easier.
Remember, the only way to get the best of an argument is not to argue. Choose your words so that no one involved in the conversation risks losing their self-esteem.
It can require raw courage to approach tough conversations, especially with someone higher up within your organization. Sometimes you’ll need to forget they are higher up. Sometimes you’ll have to make certain you put your best communication skills to work.
Either way, staying silent when something must be said will get you nowhere so speak up and you just might move up too.
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3 thoughts on “The Courage to Speak Up”
As a leader, I have found that people often expect me to fall on my sword and commit career suicide on their passionate issue. Of course, I’ll only get one chance to do it, they’ll say nice things about me on my last day–and forget me soon thereafter. I’d rather play the long game and if I don’t prevail today, come back for another attempt later.
When I do make an appeal, I try to remember ethos, pathos, and logos. I start from a foundational place of integrity, strength of character, and mutual respect. I make an attempt to find a connection with the other person. Maybe it involves an emotional appeal; maybe I appeal to their imagination or sympathy. And last, I try to build a logical case on the facts.
What I don’t do is play the contrarian or victim. I work from a place of strength, rather than weakness.
And if all fails, I come back another day.
Brilliant Marc! Especially the comment about playing the long game. It’s the only way to go.