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Speaking Up: A Lesson From "Hidden Figures"


     When I saw the movie "Hidden Figures", my first thought was that every student should go see it for all of its inspiring lessons in math, science, and history.  But there was another inspiring lesson that should not be missed and could make all the difference in an individual's success--effective and powerful communications.  Throughout the movie we see women of color speaking up when it counted.  Asking for promotions, stepping in for one another when they felt wronged, and demanding to be "in the room" so they could perform their jobs accurately.  Though the movie highlights the phenomenal math skills of three black women who made a significant contribution to our nation's history at a time of heightened racism and sexism, language and communications were also pertinent skills they mastered.  Communications is an essential skill for success today as well.  Beyond science, numbers, calculations, and historical context, the women speak up and out when it is critical to do so.  Students could benefit from seeing this kind of confidence displayed in the face of adversity and unfairness.  Women who struggle with the boldness to ask for what they want could benefit from this inspiring story too.
     Speaking up can be difficult to do in a situation where the political landscape can cost an employee her job.  I have been in far too many environments where employees were afraid to speak the truth for fear of retaliation.  Unfortunately, it is all too common to find this fear in a culture where trust is nonexistent.  Employees clam up when they should be speaking up.  In these instances, management doesn't care what their employees think so they don't ask.  And because they're not asked, the employee must take the initiative to address matters that would otherwise go unattended.  But first, they must summon the courage to say what's on their minds regardless of the repercussions, and that is a difficult thing to do for many.  Mostly because the backlash is too high a price to pay for uncertain results.  As a consequence, employees suffer in silence until they retire or get another job that empowers them and respects their opinions or until they quit abruptly because they just can't take it anymore. 
     The barrier is not always the hard-nosed boss with control issues that stifles open communications.  It is also the friendly boss who the employees like.  Because the employees have developed a supportive relationship with the boss, they may be reluctant to be open and honest for fear of damaging a relationship they value.  As an example, the boss might be a non-confrontational person who avoids conflict as much as possible.  There are times when she should step up and handle a matter that is causing issues for her staff.  Perhaps it's another department that refuses to share pertinent information with her department, and it causes delays and errors when collaborating on projects.  Instead of the boss addressing the matter with the other department's boss, she doesn't want to rock the boat so she tells her team to work around the issue.  They don't feel they should yield to uncooperative cohorts and want her to say so.  But because she may become resentful or resistant to being pushed into a zone where she is uncomfortable, employees refrain from suggesting she take charge more.
     Speaking up is essential for progress, personal growth, and higher productivity.  Failing to do so when it matters is costly in all those areas.  It shows a lack of confidence by an individual in their ability to lead, and it weakens that individual's position in the eyes of his or her team.  But assertiveness can be learned.  Need help speaking up?  We'll show you how.  Contact us at betty@thesharpersolution.com or call (803) 622-4511.

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