Speaking up

I was having breakfast with a client, and he was telling me about his recent visit to Japan. He was meeting with a number of his clients. He’s currently involved in a joint venture with two Japanese firms, and he was representing his company on this trip to Japan. It was his first time to Japan. He was describing how he found the comments that his joint venture partners were making about women, quite disagreeable. He was astounded at the way they were dealing with the women in the meeting themselves, and some of the tones and their remarks about women in general. When I asked him, ‘Did you say anything?’ He said, ‘No. I did not.’ He went on to say, ‘I was conscious of it.’ He said, ‘These are the reasons for me not saying anything.’ One, he said, he was representing his company. He didn’t know these individuals who were part of the joint venture, and he didn’t quite know how to frame the response.

Secondly, he was aware that there were different gender standards in Japan, compared to Australia, and he was very conscious of not wanting to impose his point of view on that particular country, and he knew that he didn’t know enough about it. The third reason, he said was, ‘I just didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to make a comment.’ He said, ‘I just did not feel comfortable saying anything about it.’ I want you, for a moment, to reflect on his dilemma. Does he say something, or does he not say something? This is a dilemma that all of us have faced at many different times in our lives. We have to make a decision in the moment.

We have to actually make that decision, ‘Do I say something here at this point, and will it be effective, and will it have an impact, or do I in fact not say anything and let it pass?’ Sometimes we call this phenomena being the innocent bystander. Do I just shut my eyes and not say anything, and let it go? My reflection point for you today is, what do you use to assess whether you speak up or not? As you probably have come across many occasions when you have seen things, or heard things, or read things that you have felt maybe not quite appropriate for the scenario. How do you decide whether to speak up or not? How do you teach your teams, your peers, your suppliers and customers. How do you teach them to speak up when they say things that are inappropriate?

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