I hope the title evokes thoughts of Johnny Rivers or Aerosmith – that’s what was playing in my head this morning.
How many times have you said to yourself, “I shoulda said”, “I coulda said” or “I woulda said something, but….”. It’s a common malady, the ‘should-woulda-coulda’ flu. I’ve been infected more times than I can count – at work certainly, and in other areas of my life as well. Its onset is so rapid you don’t even know you’ve got it until you try to open your mouth to counter a comment or action with which you take issue, and then rationalize why you shouldn’t say a word.
There is of course a corollary to this bug, which manifests itself with almost uncontrolled verbal expressions which are provided with or without invitation. It’s also common in the workplace – the ‘shooting-my-mouth-off’ syndrome. Again, there are no early symptoms, other than the overwhelming urge to say whatever is in your head without filter or forethought.
Although neither is recognized by the AMA, the effects of both can be lingering and negatively impact your relationships and your career. The good news? Both are controllable – and with a little exercise and a change in your emotional diet, you should feel pretty good about the prognosis.
There are times when we all feel the need or desire to speak truth to power – or at least what we perceive the truth to be. You see an issue or problem that is being overlooked, diminished or ignored by those above you in the management hourglass. In the first instance, you say nothing at all – you don’t want to be seen as negative, maybe you anticipate an angry or dismissive response or feel resigned that your perspective isn’t going to affect the outcome anyway. In the latter, you tell your supervisor everything you see and hear, rationalizing that you want to keep your boss ‘in the know’, assigning an ‘urgent’ rating to each conversation and feeling strongly that it’s your job to put it out there, and your supervisor’s job to remedy the situation.
Neither is absolutely right, neither can feel all that good and neither is reflective of your best professional aspect. I believe that timing is everything – and though certainly I don’t always get it right by a long shot – I have learned to wait until I feel the odds are best for my audience to be attentive to what I’m saying. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am undoubtedly also driven by my disdain for confrontation and will do what I can to minimize the likelihood of a conversation becoming hostile.) No one controls what you say and how you say it other than you. For those who feel your comments are futile – consider that you are in a position where there is an expectation for to you provide your insights, recommendations and perspective. Although it may easier for you to ‘go along to get along’, if you can improve a situation you have a responsibility to do so. And if any of you out there have a tendency to speak before thinking about the content and manner of your delivery – the expectations are the same for you too. Impulsive, ill-conceived comments will sabotage your success with equal speed and force.
Take ten – ten minutes to stop and think about the problem that you see. Evaluate its urgency, where your audience is at the moment and how to best disseminate the information. Presuming the situation is not an emergency, think about the possible solutions you can recommend. ‘Initiative’ is more than bringing an issue to someone’s attention – it also references your ability to provide some potential resolutions as well. You need to take time to consider problem-solving alternatives before elevating the concern. And for those who hesitate to say anything – you need some time too – to accept that this is part of your responsibilities and determine the approach that will be most comfortable to you. Doing nothing is not an option, so don’t even go there. The goal of the conversation is the same regardless of which ailment you may have – to identify a concern, assess its accuracy and provide objective recommendations for cure.
I realize that when you’re under the weather with symptoms of either virus, such counsel may be unwelcome. Yet the bottom line is – real business concerns need to be brought forward – and your professional stock will rise if you do so in the right way and at the right time. Walk around the block, take some Vitamin C and if you need to, practice your comments before you make them. I speak with many managers all the time who feel there is no point in bringing issues out in the open. I feel their sense of resignation and I ache at their feelings of futility. I have to say that there are some conditions far worse than the two I’ve mentioned today. Giving up and giving in to indifference is a far more dangerous and intransigent bug – one which spreads with impressive virulence. Your views do matter, your recommendations are important and valuable – just make sure your outlook is healthy before you speak.