One of our goals as facilitators should be to create settings where team members feel comfortable voicing their opinions.  

However, we must also feel comfortable voicing our own opinions. As we strive to create a sense of safety in our conversations necessary for progress, we must sometimes examine whether or not we’re speaking up when necessary or holding back.

In episode 091 of the Meeting Leadership Podcast, we bring in Certified Executive Coach Karmen Masson to discuss what stops leaders from speaking up.  She provides us with a simple 2-step approach to speaking up that will help you put divergent thinking into action.

Karmen Masson

Karmen Masson - Meeting Leadership Podcast - Effective Meetings

Karmen Masson is a Certified Executive Coach and leadership consultant. Her first career was as a lawyer, working in private and then in government practice where she took on senior management and executive roles. She has led large teams across diverse regions, and has been an active leader in the broader community, teaching law, facilitating leadership skill-development programs, and founding and developing a successful charitable organization. Her professional and leadership experience, combined with her passion for supporting and championing others, makes her the ideal coach for leaders who work in demanding environments, have difficult issues, and want to drive change and meaningful results.     

You Can get in touch with Karmen at http://karmenmasson.com

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00:00 – Show Opening

Are you a professional who wants to become a more effective leader? Then get ready for daily tips from the coach, with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You’re listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.

00:27 – Podcast content starts here!

Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. My name is Gordon Sheppard, and I just want to say thanks for being here. Thanks for being the type of professional who wants to build their leadership skills, who wants to learn how to run highly effective meetings, and you’re actually coming and spending the time on this show to get those things done. I really, really appreciate it.

00:49 – What stops leaders from speaking up and what to do about it

Gordon Sheppard: Let me take a moment to set the stage for this episode. Have you ever been in a leadership moment where you know that you should have said something, but you didn’t? You know, you should have found the courage or the way to do it, but you just didn’t pull it off and then the results just weren’t great. Well, if that’s the case and you’re ready to talk about it and get something to do about it, then you’re going to really enjoy today’s episode because it’s called What Stops Leaders From Speaking Up and What to do About It.

Gordon Sheppard: Thankfully we’re bringing back Karmen Masson on the show. She’s an expert. She’s a professional coach. She’s had a great legal career. She’s a mom. She started a wonderful nonprofit. She’s done so many more things in that as well. And many of you have already heard her on Episode 84 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast. It was called Why You Should Stop Being A Know-It-All Leader. And we got so much wisdom from her in that episode. I’m not going to hold you back any longer. Here’s the next interview with Karmen Masson.

01:18 – Welcome back, Karmen Masson – Previous episode: MLP 084

Gordon Sheppard: Karmen, welcome back to the show. You just did such an outstanding job that all leaders can learn from In Episode 84 on the show. It’s great to have you back.

Karmen Masson: Thank you so much, Gordon.

Gordon Sheppard:    We learned so much about all of your wonderful history and some of the transitions that you’ve made in your career and why you’ve come to this place of coaching passion now that you go and do full-time in your work. When you meet people, what do you want them to know about yourself?

01:50 – Karmen’s background

Karmen Masson: Well, I think some people will know me as a lawyer by trade, my background in law and in the justice system, and some people will know me for this already is I also have a background in charitable work. I actually founded a charitable organization in the early 2000s that’s still up and running and very successful and helps hundreds of women every year.

Gordon Sheppard: I saw this great CBC video clip. It’s still sitting there on YouTube about when you got that started up. You started that charity at a specific time in your life. Is that correct?

Karmen Masson: It was a time when I was facing a lot of challenges on… Both are personal, but in reflection, a personal and professional level. I describe it as a dangerous and a destructive relationship and I was looking to turn things around.

03:06 – The Suit Yourself Charity

Gordon Sheppard: Can you give us the name of the charity?

Karmen Masson: It’s called Suit Yourself.

Gordon Sheppard: What does Suit Yourself do?

Karmen Masson: Suit Yourself collects gently used clothing and accessories and gives them free of charge to disadvantaged women in the Edmonton area and this is to help them in their job searches by giving them the look and the confidence as they go to job interviews and make transitions in the workforce.

Gordon Sheppard: We’re going to make sure that that link to that wonderful CBC interview is there. In fact, we get to see Karmen in the early 2000s with some of the people that are coming in and the impact is emotional. I was watching one woman and the transition that she went through from not having some self-confidence and seeing you on the fly be able to help her along and then see her suited up and ready to go to a job interview.

04:20 – What holds all of us back from speaking up?

Gordon Sheppard: That was inspiring and then how lucky we are that then you’ve gone on to then combine studies and coaching and then applying all of your combined skills at this time to help all kinds of professionals from all kinds of sectors to go to be their best. And that leads us to today’s topic, which is What Stops Leaders From Speaking Up And What To Do About It. When this topic comes up for you and your work, what’s the first thing that you want people to know?

Karmen Masson: I think that one of the keys for people is to understand what is it that holds all of us back from speaking up? What is it that stops us and makes us feel kind of stuck? I think that for so many of us it starts on the surface level with some worry. We’re worried that if we see something or hear something that just doesn’t sit well with us, that we don’t want to rock the boat or upset anybody, you know?

You know, the status quo is fine. We can manage with it. And acknowledging that worry, it’s okay to have worries, but then what does it do when we carry around the worries? What’s the long-term impact of it? That’s really what I want people to acknowledge is yeah, it’s okay to have these worries and to feel uncomfortable, but unless we learn how to manage that and how to move forward productively, we don’t end up growing or helping the organizations that we work or volunteer in.

05:31 – The risks of holding back

Gordon Sheppard: Well, and when leaders take this type of behavior, what are some of the risks when they’re holding back?

Karmen Masson: I think the risks are twofold. The risk to yourself when you’re carrying around unanswered questions or thoughts or ideas, you end up feeling out of sorts. Sometimes people feel that they’re not valued. Sometimes they feel that they’re not making a good enough contribution. Sometimes they just feel like they’re being unproductive because they’re holding back and that’s something that is within them.

The other side of the risk I see is being really one to the teams that we work with, especially leadership teams or boards. When we sit on boards or leadership teams and we zip our lips or sit on our hands and remain quiet, even though we have doubts or questions that come up in the discussions at meetings, when we do that, we really aren’t helping our team members to feel safe and to feel like they too can contribute because maybe they’re thinking exactly the same thing as we are. But they’re seeing us holding back and they’re thinking, well, maybe that’s just the way it is around here. We don’t rock the boat, and so everybody stays quiet. Maybe there’s one person who puts their hand up and feels like they’re out of place because they’re the only one actually saying what’s on their mind.

Gordon Sheppard: That is absolutely a disaster for results, especially in that nonprofit space. I’ll just jump in and let you know a little bit about my own facilitation experience and maybe some of my corporate experience. I remember being that person who didn’t put their hand up or speak up in the corporate setting. I just wasn’t in a position to do that. Now independently, when I go to do my work as a facilitator, I’m stunned at the straightforward, respectful things that come out of my mouth that help people move forward very quickly in those settings and then helping them to learn the muscle to do that with each other and get them to be way more productive. It’s certainly really satisfying to come in from the outside, but you’re so right because they’re just so held back because everyone’s waiting for the other person or maybe there’s, I don’t know, dynamics that they’re going on, they’re trying to hold back from. If people need to overcome this, what are some of the suggestions that you help them to draw themselves out of this type of pattern?

07:52 – The 2-step approach to speaking up

Karmen Masson: I think I’m going to suggest what I call a two-step approach. It’s really simple and easy. The first step is to… If you hear something that doesn’t sit right with you, is to, number one, acknowledge what you’re hearing, but do it exactly in the way that you alluded to, Gordon, and that’s being respectful. If you do hear something or you’re thinking something, and to put that on the table in a respectful way can help to start the conversation. Just say what you’re noticing, just say even what you’re feeling or if you’re curious about something, just to start the conversation I’m going to call gently.

Then the second step is to inquire, is to ask some powerful questions, to be really genuinely curious and ask questions that are open-ended. As I’ve said on a previous episode, those questions are usually simple. They usually start with what or how and if they’re truly curious, respectful questions, people will appreciate them. I think just remembering those two simple steps can be a great way to feel more comfortable about start taking what you’re feeling on the inside and bringing it out and starting a really healthy, productive conversation that’s about learning and getting more information and really helping the organization by doing that.

09:27 – An example of the correct time and manner to speak up – Divergent thinking in action

Gordon Sheppard: Well, hang in there with me for a second. If we can maybe come up with an example here on the fly. So you’ve been in a leadership situation and we’ll use the nonprofit setting just for a second. A typical conversation that comes up for a nonprofit board is, should we give the executive director a raise? That might be one of those ones where you get a whole variety of opinions around the table.

Gordon Sheppard: This is often one of those places where some people speak up too much and then there are people in the room who have an opinion and they don’t put in their 2 cents’ worth. But what happens typically in nonprofit is they leave that meeting and they blab on and on and on about what they should have said in that given moment. Do you think that will be a good example that we can tackle to actually talk about how to apply what you’ve talked about?

Karmen Masson: Gordon, I’m sitting here nodding and smiling because, wow, what a great example. Absolutely. I think the framework that I like to use with my clients is one of… to begin with in discussions where there’s an issue on the table and it’s kind of a yes or no answer. They seem so black and white. But if we can kind of open up that conversation and think of it not as I yes or a no, but as a, “Hey, let’s start at point A at the beginning and let’s get as many divergent ideas and ways of thinking about this as possible.”

There’s no right or wrong answers in our discussion. The more that we can engage with our teammates and the folks around the table about that and get everybody feeling safe to have differences of opinions and different ways of thinking about this, the more ideas that will come onto the table and that can help each of us around the table, everyone around the table because we suddenly start to hear things that we might not have been aware of.

Karmen Masson: And that to me, that divergent thinking is where so many organizations don’t excel at. They really want to move to the convergent thinking of, Hey, we need to come to this answer. We need to get a yes or a no and that can be too rushed. So really helping people stay in that divergent place of thinking, bouncing more and more ideas off of each other and being okay with this just being a time and a space for safe, open discussion and knowing that yes, the time will come to converge and come up with the decision, but we need some time and space to work through it.

11:59 – Do we have to make a decision?

Gordon Sheppard: I keep getting shocked at my own assumptions when I’m facilitating in moments like this that we’re describing. One of the safety phrases that I’ve been able to use successfully is for the next 10 or 15 minutes, do we have to make a decision? And then they come back and they’ll say, “No, we don’t.” And I’ll say, “Great.”

Gordon Sheppard: Now, we can have that open conversation and they feel the safety to start to actually contribute in that way. So I just need to add that in as sort of a nuance to this kind of conversation where people can find a phrase, find a way to get the rubber to hit the road so they can actually make this, put it into action.

12:32 – Episode recap

Gordon Sheppard: This is such a great episode and I wish we could keep going on and on and on. I’m going to take a moment to recap some of the key ideas that I heard along the way and tell me if I missed anything. But the first thing is you were saying that sometimes people are in these settings and what’s holding them back is they’ve got a worry, but maybe what they can start to do is some acknowledgement of that and you have some suggestions for that.

It creates risk if they hold back for themselves and for their teams and then when they start to get into acknowledgement, maybe they can start to inquire in a better way with better listening and then ask better questions. Finally, that’s going to bring them around to avoiding what you talked about, which is a convergent or rushing to the finish line and allow better discussions so they can get better outcomes. Is there anything you want to add to help us put an ending to that one?

13:19 – Creating safety in our conversations

Karmen Masson: Agree with everything. A great summary and the more I think about it, Gord, it’s really about creating safety in our conversations. I’m sure most good people agree that healthy conversations aren’t all about having all the answers.But creating that safe space to really be open to new ideas, different ideas and because of that, that’s how organizations get better and grow and become successful. 

13:51 – Get in touch with Karmen Masson – http://karmenmassen.com

Gordon Sheppard: I couldn’t agree more. Karmen, if people need to get in touch with you to gain some more of your wisdom, what’s the best way to do that? 

Karmen Masson: Check out my website at karmenmasson.com

Gordon Sheppard: Really great to have you back on the show. I know people are going to learn a ton. Thanks again.

Karmen Masson: Thanks, Gordon.

Gordon Sheppard: Isn’t it just remarkable how much value there was in that interview? I mean, can you as a leader imagine, being able to stop that little worry that goes on and builds and builds and builds, being able to mitigate the risk to yourself and to your team if you don’t speak up? And finally, getting the muscle to be able to start acknowledging things and finding a way to get at them. This is really valuable advice. I hope you’re able to take something out of there right now and apply it in your next meeting.

14:37 – MLP 084: Why You Should Stop Being A Know-It-All Leader with Karmen Masson  – https://meetingleadershipinc.com/84

Gordon Sheppard: Just as a reminder, if you’d like to hear more of Karmen Masson, check out Episode 84 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast. It’s called Why You Should Stop Being A Know-It-All Leader.

14:55 – MLP 107: Inspiring Leadership Stories With Karmen Masson – https://meetingleadershipinc.com/107

Gordon Sheppard: Again, it’s really, really valuable and available at meetingleadershipinc.com/84. We are also fortunate enough to have Karmen back on for a third time in Episode 107, it’s called Inspiring Leadership Stories With Karmen Masson and we’re going to hear one in there that is an absolute blockbuster that you can apply to your family and to your business teams. You can find that episode by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/107.

15:19 – Meeting Leadership Academy –  https://meetingleadershipinc.com/academy

Gordon Sheppard: I also want to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. I am absolutely proud of all the great work that we’re doing through there, whether it’s live and working with teams to help them transform their meetings and build stronger leadership skills. Also, there’s wonderful online training as well. So if you want to take advantage of any of those things, please visit meetingleadershipinc.com/academy. As always, thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you tomorrow on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

15:51 – Podcast Outro

Thanks for listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast. Be sure to subscribe for more strategies to help you become an outstanding leader and don’t forget to rate and review so we can bring you fresh content every day. We’ll see you tomorrow, right here on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

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Gordon Sheppard

Gord is on a mission to change the world, one meeting at a time. Over his 25+ years in business Gord has run or participated in more than 2000 meetings! Not only is Gord the CEO of Business Expert Solutions Inc. (owner/operator of Meeting Leadership Inc), but he is also a Facilitator, Trainer, Business Consultant, Author, Speaker and Podcaster who helps leaders learn how to have great meetings, so they can build outstanding organizations and serve their clients at the highest possible level.

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