2 min read

Moving from a SHUT UP to SPEAK UP Culture

Nobody thinks they are spinning a ‘shut up’ culture. We say “Tell me anything!” But then, when people do, it’s never at the right time or what we want to hear and we find subtle ways to shut them down: Ignored e-mails. Heightened negative reactions to bad news or negative feedback. Dismissing bold ideas that we already suspect will never work. We’re moving so fast we might not even notice the small ways we discourage people from speaking up. Instead, we’re telling them to just “Shut up,” keep their heads down and their concerns to themselves and to do their work.

That’s too bad, because we’re losing good ideas, helpful feedback and eroding trust that helps to bind us during times of change. (Note: It’s always a time of change.)  Here are simple habits to take on to create a Speak Up culture where every voice is bold and acknowledged:


Create Respect – Set the rules of engagement. Being clear and candid is great when it can be done in a manner that is others focused. Tone and word choice matter. You might be a superfan of short, sharp, direct e-mails – but consider how these are being received and the culture you might be invoking with your snarky one-word responses. 

Do this: Pause before you send that e-mail. Read it again in your snarkiest tone – anything that sticks out? On the receiving end, presume the best about the tone and intent of the sender. 


Make the Path – What are your channels for people to communicate with you? For the sake of simplicity, many of us have limited the inbound information and are diligent with managing our time, but have you stifled people’s access to you?

Do This: Create Opportunities to Chat. Devote some of that time you’ve wrestled back from your calendar to creating low-stakes situations for communicating. Schedule coffee chats. Stop by people’s desks for a casual check-in. Include lunch in a meeting and allow for a ‘non-working’ break to talk while enjoying it.


Model It – People are looking to you for the cues that give them permission on how to behave. When you keep your head down and withhold your perspective, you’re telling them to do the same. Even if you are a ‘keep it close to the chest’ type of person, challenge yourself to flex outside of your comfort zone to model speaking up.

Do This: Be Vulnerable. Find the right opportunity to share a misstep and what you learned from it. When your team is empowered to share mistakes and analyze opportunities for improvement they shift into a growth mindset.


Be Open & Grateful – Have you been accused of BBL? Bad Body Language? Do people fear bringing you bad news because of your signature withering look or your Oscar winning dramatic physical reactions? Shift into an attitude of openness where you are grateful for information. You might not feel elated to get bad news but you’ll open up the lines of communication and become aware of emerging issues. 

Do This: The next time somebody comes into your workspace, make it a point to shift away from your computer and be open physically. If it’s a bad time to talk, take control of the timing by agreeing to a later time for the conversation.


It’s good to move fast. Along the way, make sure you’re encouraging everybody to speak up and share their voice.

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