Business Advice

Speak up and save lives


We are living in a quintessential crucial moment and in the midst of the greatest influencer challenges. Helene Vermaak, Business Director at corporate culture experts The Human Edge, says that human behaviour is vital in helping us through this pandemic. “It will be the simple measures that will have the greatest impact and therefore, as global citizens, we will need to speak up and remind one another of these measures when we see someone dropping the ball.”

Speaking up is not an easy task and if we do, most of us are nervous about doing so. For many our COVID-19 related fears include being nervous about the infection risk when interacting with co-workers, friends and family and being uncomfortable around strangers, yet most of us still say less than we should when we witness others lapsing into unsafe behaviour.

Some of the reasons that we fail to speak up in general are:

  • We don’t feel that it’s our place to tell others how to behave or act
  • We don’t know how to speak up in a way that won’t feel offensive
  • We worry that speaking up won’t do any good anyway
  • We don’t feel that we are an authority on the matter
  • We are unsure on exactly what to say

Faced with this pandemic what we do know through various research studies is that if we wash our hands, sanitise,  wear masks and socially distance, we can dramatically decrease the spread of COVID-19. So how does our behaviour play a part?  Vermaak says that research has shown that the only way we can create strong social norms for safe behaviour is if people remind those who lapse.

“This means that every single individual needs to speak up when observing people disregarding the rules that can keep us safe, not to mention help businesses and economies recover,” says Vermaak.  Three things to keep in mind when it’s time to speak up are:

  • It’s kind to remind – when your motivation is kindness your words feel different. The key to mustering the courage to speak up is to remind yourself, “It’s kind to remind.” So, next time you’re worried about speaking up, repeat this phrase: “It’s kind to remind,” then speak up and save a life. Remember, when your mouth opens, a great word to begin with is “Please.”
  • Gratitude not attitude – one of the best ways to help us establish a norm of polite reminders in the world, is to offer a polite response when you are reminded. Any time someone reminds you to do something safe, look them right in the eye and say – Thank you! A quick, sincere thank you makes the tension they may feel before speaking up disappear. And it disabuses all who see it of their fear of offering similar admonitions.
  • Speak up and let go – when you’re in an awkward moment writhing with uncertainty about whether or not to remind someone to be safe, it can be helpful to: Speak up and Let go. First, speak up. Don’t overthink it. Don’t amplify your own misery by imagining all of the horrible things that might happen if you open your mouth. Hardwire it. Make it automatic. Have a ready phrase at hand – something clever, catchy, and brilliant like: “We’ve been asked to have only five in the conference room.”

    Then, let go. Don’t hand your self-worth over to the other person. Let them have their own reaction. Usually what dresses up like resentment in others is actually embarrassment. And that is for them to work through. It’s not a comment on your dignity unless you make it one. Break off eye contact. Don’t make it a standoff. Take a breath. Congratulate yourself for doing the right thing. Then let it go!

It was easy to stay safe when we were sheltered in our own homes, but the real challenge is if we can do so when we are out in the world.  “The Human Edge works with leading innovator in corporate training VitalSmarts in helping us to achieve dialogue in crucial moments with results, while keeping relationships intact. Finding the right words is never easy and even though we need these skills now more than ever, they are timeless,” concludes Vermaak.

For more help the VitalSmarts video series shares tips and scripts specific to crucial moments we may be facing right now – tips that are built on the skills and principles taught in the bestselling book and training course Crucial Conversations. In just a minute or two that age-old question, “But, how do I say that?” is answered and you are given the confidence and words you’ll need to speak up when it matters most How Do I Say That? video series

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