Rachel was sitting in her boss’s office. A mid level manager doing great things in her company, and with an impeccable reputation, an issue had arisen. One of her team had made a complaint about her. It was a pretty serious complaint detailing how this person thought she misbehaved as a manager and listing pages upon pages of examples.
The facts were that this woman had just been let go from her role and she wasn’t happy about it. The facts were that Rachel had a flawless record as a manager, was a star performer with a bright future, had been mentored by the divisional CEO as a future leader, and was well respected by her team and peer group.
But the facts weren’t at play here. Her manager had told her to come into the meeting with human resources and just listen. Not talk, just listen. She didn’t want to be seen as ‘being defensive’, she was told. She hadn’t been shown the letter of complaint. No details had been shared. Her manager had gone so far as to say that the woman was ‘completely mad’. But still, ‘process had to be followed’ meaning an investigation had to ensue.
In our discussion before this meeting, Rachel told me, “I guess I just go into the meeting and take whatever they dish out. I don’t want to be seen as being defensive, so he has pretty much told me not to say anything.’
“How do you feel about that?” I asked her.
“Well, not great. I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I know she is barking mad and everyone else knows it too. So why do I have to just sit there and take it? Why can’t I speak up, ask questions, defend myself without being defensive about it all?” she asked, upset that she felt she now had a black mark on her untarnished management record that could impact her future.
I paused as I contemplated her question and situation. I understood how it felt to hold your tongue, and deny your own sense of self and power in the willingness to comply and not rock the boat even further.
I looked at Rachel, this strong, powerful, successful woman sitting in front of me.
“You can,” I told her. “You can speak up. You can use your voice. You can defend yourself and ask questions and challenge the status quo in your own way without being defensive. You can stay grounded in your power and back yourself. You can do all of these things even when they have told you that you need to comply and behave according to their codes and rules about what is appropriate. And you can do it all respectfully – of yourself and of them.”
You can speak truth to power. It’s your choice. You have your own power, even when it doesn’t look or feel like you have any. Choose it. And when you feel called to, always, always, use your voice.