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  • Sarah Black

When to speak out

Hands up if you feel overwhelmed by the state of the world right now.

I won’t list all the things that are happening around us because I imagine that you’re all too aware of them and none of us need further triggers in our inbox.

And if you’re in leadership or communications, there’s a good chance that you feel pressure to say or do something on behalf of your organization about at least one or ten or one hundred of these things on any given day.

I’ve written before about when to speak up on social issues, but I’ve been reflecting further on it recently, and I thought I’d share my thoughts in case they’re helpful to you.

Keep asking ‘why’?

If you’re considering speaking up publicly, either within your organization or outside it, on a topic, issue or event, it is important to ask ‘why’.

It is vital to be clear about your intentions and goals for making a statement. You need a better reason than your competitor did or ‘everyone else’ is saying something.

Think very carefully about what you want to achieve and who you want to engage with. Bear in mind that you can’t make a statement and then run away. Well, actually, you can, but it doesn’t tend to do your brand or corporate reputation a lot of good, and it is horrible for your people.

You need to be prepared for responses and for dialogue – and to be clear about the purpose of that, too.

Work, not just words

If you are clear about the purpose of speaking up, the next question is, what else are you doing?

Words can be powerful, but they are often not enough. What action are you taking to address the topic? Is your position on an issue lived out through the day-to-day actions and policies of your organisation?

If you’re prepared to speak, you need to be ready to talk about what you’re doing to make a difference or an impact.

Silence can be golden

When a friend of mine was being prepared for a volunteer position in Belfast in the early 1990s, she was told that if she thought she understood what was happening in Northern Ireland, she was either misinformed or confused. It was meant to be a joke, but it wasn’t really.

It is all too easy to stand outside a situation and think you know what’s going on. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what’s happening, it may be best not to leap in with an opinion.

Unfortunately, we live in an age of disinformation – but that’s no excuse for not being informed. We need to be scrupulous about our information sources. We need to weigh our judgment carefully.

There are times to listen, learn and then speak. Rushing in without doing so can do more harm than good.

Equally, there are times to work quietly and privately to drive change, spending time in conversation with people to find deeper understanding of their position, allow your own thinking to develop and then to take action.

Remember your power

My first boss in PR taught me a lot about the influence of our words decades before social media was even a thing. We were lucky if the fax worked.

Your words are amplified today by so many information channels. Never underestimate their impact for better or worse. It’s easy to become cynical, but the reality is that comments and actions from civic leaders can have a huge impact.

There’s so much to think about and reflect on in this area, but I’ll keep thinking and sharing.

What do you think about my suggestions?

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