Have you ever been in a meeting/conversation/situation where you suddenly feel like you took too many loop-de-loops at the state fair? That low, deep feeling in your gut that makes you feel queasy? That’s your values talking. You should listen up.
I remember awhile back I found myself in a discussion with a previous boss and colleague of mine that gave me that feeling. The conversation centered around student funding, how it should be used and why…and it felt incredibly shady to me. The kind of shady that leaves students – purposely – out of the conversation, the kind of shady that schemes up plans on how to use their funding without a vote and behind closed doors. I got that too-many-tater-tots kind of feeling. That feeling followed me home and ate away at me all night. I called up an old boss and hashed it out with her. She knew that I already knew what I had to do. As integrity is one of my core values, I needed to speak up. Our bosses: people we think should be doing things by the book, ‘amiright? And most importantly, I should speak up for my students. So, I did. My boss, feeling sheepish as I called her out for the shadiness, agreed that we should involve students before making the decision. At the very least, both her and my colleague knew I meant business at that meeting. I took a tone that I save for only special occasions where people have pushed my limits and my values: the kind of tone that means I’m not going to stand for this kind of decision-making and here’s why. I circled back to the students and our core mission. I was nervous, naturally, so that morning I talked to my reflection in the mirror. I reminded her that I’m in this work for the students, so where does that leave my values if I don’t speak up for them? The more I talked to the mirror, the less shaky my voice felt, my emotions dropped away and my convictions shot through.
We all have had those folks in our lives that make us feel this way about the decisions they make. So, the next time you get that feeling in your gut, follow it. And consider the following:
Our values are there and present for a reason. They sit there on our shoulders and whisper in our ears at those important times where we need a moral compass, when decisions get made, when we are deciding whether to go to the gym in the morning or not. Sometimes, we might even feel them screaming into our ears. That’s mostly when we have allowed something to drag on for too long, knowing that we should have done the right thing in the first place. They serve a purpose and we should listen.
Speak up. To someone – anyone. If you don’t feel comfortable telling off the Vice President and calling them out for throwing more shade than a groundhog in February, talk to your direct supervisor, a colleague, another senior staff member that you may be closer with. Find a way to communicate and discover what pathways that person can get the message that what they are doing isn’t so great.
But do it professionally. Check your emotions. You have every right to be angry, shocked, sad and/or asking yourself “Is this really happening?”. But sleep on all of these feelings. If you react to your emotions immediately, the conversation will never go the way that it should go because you are just blowing off steam, rather than gathering your thoughts together in a way that will make for a productive conversation.
Use your reflection for that good talking to. It’s good to practice your argument/feelings out loud before you march in anywhere, ready to save the world. Relax, take a deep breath, and read again the advice above.
Check your facts. Those emotions again – they can conjure all sorts of assumptions and stories in our head about what we think was happening in that conversation. Your gut is probably right – but you want to make sure that you don’t take the discussion/situation out of context. “Did I hear so-and-so right? Did they really mean the way that it came out? Is there something else that I’m missing?” On the other hand, there will also be scenarios that will be overtly, in-your-face questionable. So just use your judgement. And that’s why it’s so important to talk to someone first.
Have other folks in your corner. Others undoubtedly will share your values – and perhaps are waiting for someone else to speak up because they might be feeling that roller coaster ride, too. Gather your fan base – it’s helpful if it’s also someone on senior staff or that has a bit more power than you do in case things go awry.
Don’t be the person who waits for someone else to speak up. Think about how worse off our world would be if we were all waiting for one another to act on their values. Take some time to think it through – but that sick feeling will remain unless you remedy it. Communication is the key. And who knows? The person on the receiving end may just thank you for it. Now, that’s leadership.