Have you ever been in a situation where someone in a public setting was saying something that went against all the values you stand for? And yet, despite your convictions, you didn’t say anything and left wishing you had found your voice and at least provided an alternative perspective to illustrate the values clash?

A similar experience happened to one of our leaders from Belonging Matters Conversations for Leaders, where she couldn’t find her voice and felt unable to provide a different perspective in a public setting.

When values clash: A story from our community

Here’s what happened as told from the words of one of our community leaders:
I was a part of a Parent Action Committee where parents were helping to plan our kids’ graduation event. There seemed to be a lot of fear among the parents about what graduation would look like... I got the sense that there were a lot of overprotective parents and maybe even a bit of hysteria over the safety of our teens. 
During one of the committee’s meetings, a parent took the stage to present a slideshow, which showed a dirty and roughed up mattress in the woods. He was clearly very upset and quite concerned about something happening to his daughter the night of the graduation party. It is a tradition for graduating students to go camping in the woods, but after this one parent’s presentation, the discussion progressed into setting up a temporary area for graduating students to camp outside the high school, in a “picket fence” instead of in the woods, so that teachers could supervise the event. 
Listening to the discussion, I was astounded by the fear mongering and outright distrust parents had towards the kids. I kept thinking to myself, this type of fear mongering is just so indicative of the danger that fear mongering more generally does in our society. 
So, I cooked up this big speech – I was going to command the floor and provide a different perspective. But then I got a stomach ache, and I shrunk back and didn’t do the speech. I started to overthink the situation and doubted whether I ought to say anything at all more publicly. I was really angry at the parent for voicing such an extreme position, but I felt powerless in being able to stand up and say something that countered his opinion.

The difficulty in standing up and speaking out

While the experience and values clash above is specific to this particular leader, the sentiment of not being able to stand up to power resonated across the board for our cohort during the Belonging Matters Conversations For Leaders

Standing up to power, especially in public settings, is difficult because emotions such as anger and outrage can sometimes distort our thinking. As another leader put it, anger is a “double-edged sword” because it can fuel us to seek justice, but it can also cause cognitive distortion.

Speaking out, especially when there is a power difference, can lead to anxiety or stress, which can sometimes manifest in physical ailments like the stomach ache this leader experienced. Leaders shared stories of how overthinking a situation can lead to self-doubt in our own capabilities, which ultimately leaves us to feel powerless in the situation.

Internal reflections when confronting power

In our most recent Belonging Matters Conversations For Leaders cohort, leaders discussed how they usually overcome this sense of powerlessness and how they find their voice to stand up to power in public settings. Finding their own voice helped to maintain their own positive mental health & well-being so they could become powerful agents for change. Here’s what they had to say:

First, engage in an internal reflection when confronting power. It can really help to:

  • Recognize your anger and its source in social injustice.
  • Identify the underlying values that are clashing.
  • Remember the values that you are standing up for.
  • Conjure a phrase that reframes the situation in terms of your values.
Internal Reflection When Confronting Power

External actions when confronting power

Here are 5 tips from leaders on how to confront power when values clash. Consider these tips if you find yourself in a public setting and feel called to stand up and speak out.

#1 Take a deep breath.

Regulate your response. Taking a breath or walking away from the situation for a moment or two can be a great way to gather your thoughts before approaching the situation. Regulating your response will both help you articulate yourself better and help others to hear you more clearly.

#2 Assert your physical presence.

Square your shoulders, keep your head up, make eye contact, and speak loudly and clearly. Make your presence known in the best way you know how so that others can see that you hold the floor. This will both boost your own confidence (think of the power pose!) as well as let others know it is your turn to speak.

#3 Paraphrase the conflicting point of view.

When navigating conflict, acknowledge the other person’s perspective by giving a brief summary of what you heard. This acknowledgement lets the other person know that you were actively listening to them and that you heard what they had to say. Thank them for their contribution and then state that you would like to offer a different perspective.

#4 Reframe the issue.

Remember the values that you are standing up for and express the issue in a way that brings those values and  your rationale to the forefront. In the case of the leader from the story, she wanted to reframe the issue to one about trust. For her, she was standing up for “trusting our kids”.

#5 Propose alternative value-based solutions.

Offer an alternative values-based solution to the issue or invite the person to work with you to find an alternative process that centers on the values you are each most concerned with. In the case of this particular leader, she could express wanting to find a solution that acknowledges the other parents' need for ensuring their teenage children’s safety while ALSO providing space and anchoring the conversation around the importance of trust.

Strengthen your values & voice

When you start by building your inner sense of belonging through becoming crystal clear on your own values, you strengthen your personal power, and then when you move into action, you become a powerful force for change. In this way, you reduce stress and anxiety and ensure your own positive mental health as you advocate and facilitate change.  

Are you a leader who is interested in learning how you can find your voice, stand up to power, and effectively address your most pressing challenges? Join our next cohort for the Belonging Matters Conversations for Leaders.

The Belonging Matters Conversations For Leaders program offers a safe space for leaders like you who are facilitating change in their organizations or communities. During the program, you can expect to connect more deeply with yourself and other leaders. Together, you will have an opportunity to share stories, identify priority shared challenges and generate strategies that you can put into action right away. When you find your footing again, you will be able to move forward with more energy and confidence in your next best step.

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About the Author

Jessie Sutherland

An international speaker, trainer, and consultant, Jessie Sutherland works with organizations and communities to engage diversity, build belonging and ignite intercultural collaboration. Her approach creates sustainable community change that effectively addresses a wide range of complex social problems.

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