Co-Author with Megan Reitz of ‘Speak Up! Say what needs to be said and hear what needs to be heard’
I’m a longstanding researcher into the use and abuse of power in the workplace. In parallel I work as a coach at all levels of organisations and across many sectors and geographies. My intention when working with individuals and groups is to help people find their voice and help those around them find their voice as well. This work is underpinned by a long running association with the Ashridge Doctorate and Masters in Organisational Change –that has seen me write with both faculty and students to unpick the taken-for-granted assumptions that lock them into acting in a particular way.
1. What problem were you trying to solve with the book?
Organisations are expert at ignoring bad news and the wisdom of their workforce. Negative stories endlessly hit the headlines – while all the time someone within the organisation knew of the dirty secret. Historically this has been addressed by whistle-blowing policies and appeals to people’s courage – putting the responsibility for saying the least popular things on those with least power. Away from corporate nasties hiding in plain sight, are the ignored opportunities for innovation, overlooked because the realities of getting people to speak-up and listen-up don’t fit with a model of organisational life that disappears the all-pervasive power of power.
2. What surprised you most about writing the book?
How uncomfortable people are with taking power seriously, especially how power plays out in every relationship they’re part of. The expectation is that power can be reduced to a simple expression of positional authority – managed away through the introduction of something called ‘the flat organisation’. This allows people to avoid owning their authority and their relationship to the authority of others, which is always drenched in personal history and cultural context. Taking power seriously means taking differences seriously, letting go of the fantasy of ‘we’re all in it together’ united around a singular experience of reality.
3. What will the reader learn?
How to be heard and hear others – assuming that is what they really want to do. They will be asked to understand speaking up and listening up as a relational activity, not something that is in the gift of any individual – or something that can be sorted out by getting certain people (traditionally the most junior and least powerful) to go and fix themselves. Speaking truth to power is a collective experience that can be invited but not policed into action – there are serious limitations to what can be achieved through a reliance on policies and procedures.
4. What does this look like in practice?
It’s all about intention and showing up. Expecting to create a ‘speak up’ culture without meaning it will create a hall of mirrors, where everyone says the right things in the right way, but no one means what they say. When people stop the playacting which stops so much learning, they are going to have get used to people saying the unexpected and disagreeing with each other. This takes time and causes conflict – now out in the open not hiding in secret. This is about challenging the status quo and feels awkward. But it will be lively! And more truthful!
5. How did you come to the view you describe in the book?
Through a combination of research, practice and theoretical investigation. The book draws on hundreds and interviews, thousands of survey responses, years of coaching and a worldview that sees social truth as something that gets made in the moment between people as they go about their lives. It is a view of the world which resists the temptation to over-simplify relationships and play into an established management discourse where the quick and simple rules the roost. My co-author and I have learned that making a real difference to workplace communication comes from having those avoided conversations – about power, politics and relationships.
Speaking truth to power is something that happens all the time – and it usually means ensuring that the most powerful get the truth they are comfortable with. To change this pattern means challenging the status quo around who gets to say what, to who and what counts as a good outcome.
This content has been created by authors in their personal capacity. Any views, thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pearson.