I knew I had to write this month’s post about speaking our truth – despite several possible topics lingering in my mind and on snippets of paper – when I opened the card that I wrote to myself back in September. I had made cards for me and some friends with fall leaves on the front so we could capture our personal transformation aspirations. My card reminded me to ‘sound the fierce flute” and of the clarity, conviction and courage needed to speak my truth.
When we speak our truth, we honor our place in the world. When we share what we see, from our unique vantage point, we contribute to something bigger. In a world that increasingly values creativity, openly sharing our ideas and insights is not just a nice to have, it is critical to success. By sharing, we open dialogue, vet ideas, uncover assumptions, expose biases, notice limitations and see possibilities.
What we find in the world always comes through the lens of our own reality. Evaluations, judgments, or assessments are pictures we paint with the brush of our life experiences. Even with guidance to help us broaden our perspective or aids to tune into our unconscious thought patterns, we see the world through our own eyes.
Radical Leadership really brought this home for me. At the end of the first day of our retreat, each of us identified two gifts – that is, insights and feedback – that we shared with each individual in our small group. We gathered in a circle and took turns sitting in the position of honor at the front of the room. You sat in an open position of receiving while each person around the circle shared in turn their two things with you. As the receiver, you were simply to show appreciation for the gift, no defending, excusing, embellishing, just taking it in and expressing gratitude for the gift of it, whatever it was. While a key intended take-away was for us to see how we tend to dismiss our brilliance by talking past or around a compliment or valuable feedback, unable to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and accept our beauty and grace. The most powerful take-away for me came later that evening, when we were encouraged to look at our list again, considering how each gift written for another actually applied to ourselves. Whoa! Clearly, what I saw in my colleagues was a reflection of myself. My gifts were all provided through my unique, very personal life lens. (You can read more about this experience in Through You I See.)
We are all different. We all see, hear, feel, breathe in things that are uniquely ours in the world. You and I can be in the same place at the same time and take away a completely different experience. Our mood, our mindset, what we need at the time – these affect what we take in and how we process it.
These filters through which our experiences of the moment move…well, sometimes they aren’t very open. They don’t always easily let in new information, especially information that we are not ready for or that runs counter to our own beliefs. This means that sometimes people won’t be ready to receive what we have to share. Sometimes what we see as possible is just not accessible to someone else because they are in a different place. For others to understand or appreciate your truth sometimes takes time.
Speaking our truth can be challenging. For example, maybe we can’t be honest with our spouse about what we really want to have for dinner or which movie we want to see because of a deeply held habit of wanting to please others before yourself. Maybe we can’t share what we think at the office about the latest project plan because important people are present and we might ‘upset the apple cart”. At the root of the inability to share is often a form of fear – fear of not fitting in or being liked or loved, fear of ruining our chances to be involved in something important or losing our jobs, for example.
As with all fears, to root them out requires that understand them – that we be self-aware. So this month I’m going to explore these questions:
- When do I hold back or suppress sharing my ideas and insights?
- What keeps me from speaking my truth?
- What do I need to feel OK with speaking my truth?
- What mindset and beliefs align with my truth?
For the first week or so, I’m just going to notice when I choose to speak my truth, or not. Then, when I have a better picture of when I share and when I hold back, I’m going to ‘up my game’ and begin to explore:
- When is it easy to speak my mind?
- When is speaking my mind challenging?
- What is at the root of any reluctance to open up?
- What might be possible if I expressed my point of view and communicated my perspective?
Sometimes sharing our truth can result in something positively unexpected. Early in my career, a new client was consistently scheduling work meetings at 8am on Monday mornings, requiring that I give up part of my weekend to travel for business. When time after time, I was unavailable, she asked me about my unavailability. I remember my strong desire to make her happy, and the even stronger need to honor my family time. When I explained that 1) she is my client and I want to meet her needs, and 2) my husband and I work very hard during the week and treasure our weekend time together, she listened. Although she didn’t say anything at the time, her response later surprised me: she scheduled our next meeting at 1pm on Monday so I could travel that morning, instead of over the weekend. And, years later, she told me how much she respected me for my commitment to work-life balance. I share this story that together we might open to the unimagined possibilities that open when we are courageous enough to speak our truth.
Sound the fierce flute!
* I took this photo at Ephasus, Turkey, 2011.