Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

You’re at a wedding… at that crucial point in the ceremony when anyone who can show just cause why the couple should not be “united in holy matrimony” is asked to “speak now or forever hold your peace.” I doubt that you’ve ever actually seen someone stand up and give “just cause.” But back in the day when arranged marriages were the norm, it did happen. Often, a dowry was involved. And if that obligation had not been met, the groom’s family could speak up to put a stop to the proceedings.

I didn’t bring up the phrase “speak now or forever hold your peace” because I want to talk about weddings. I did it because I want to convince you to carry it in your head – always – to remind yourself never to speak until the time is right. And the time is right when the other person is ready to listen.

A Common Success Faux Pas You Must Avoid

Why is it so important to wait to speak until the other person is ready to listen? It’s simple. Speaking out of turn, interrupting, or speaking defensively can negatively impact your goals.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

John, the human resources director for one of my consulting clients, was upset. The owner of the company, Mr. B, had cornered him and asked him why they were paying more for a particular service than other people in the same business.

Mr. B owns an insurance franchise that has access to a national insurance program. The renewal rates for insurance companies involved in national programs are based on a variety of factors, including the state they’re in, number of transactions, loss history, and other actuarial considerations. Mr. B believed that he was paying the same (or even less) than the other franchise holders. When he found out that wasn’t the case, he demanded that John make “something” happen to change his perceived slight.

From what John told me, it sounded like he had made the common success faux pas of not speaking up early on – when he first thought this might be a concern for Mr. B. And because he had invested so much time and energy into making the best possible rate deal for Mr. B, he was very defensive when he did speak up.

When Is the Right Time to Speak Up?

Had John asked for my advice, I would have told him to take this approach:

Step 1. Let Mr. B say everything he needs to say. Let him get it all out. And even when you think he’s done, ask him, “Mr. B, is there anything else you want to add? Have you shared all your thoughts with me?”

It’s important not to interrupt Mr. B. At this point, he is not ready to listen to the facts or to your perspective. But, eventually, he will calm down. He will notice that you haven’t said anything, and will ask you to comment.

By not interrupting, you give yourself time to compose yourself instead of immediately – and defensively – reacting. You also give yourself the opportunity to really listen to what Mr. B is saying. (Too often, we assume that we know what the other person is going to say.)

Step 2. Restate the problem so Mr. B knows you understand it. Then ask him if he has any thoughts for a solution.

Be patient. Keep in mind that Mr. B obviously feels very strongly that he is right. Let the man speak.

Step 3. Offer your own suggestions – or politely explain to Mr. B why he may be wrong in thinking he is paying too much.

Mr. B may not initially grasp what you are trying to tell him. But he will settle down. He will become receptive to listening to the facts. Most businessmen want to know what is really going on and what options are available to make a bad situation better.

I had a meeting with John and Mr. B this past week. The primary goal was to bring Mr. B up to speed on where he’s at in terms of the rates he’s being charged by the national insurance company, and to make sure he’s comfortable with the way his claims are being handled by them. But I also wanted to give John some tools to help him communicate effectively with Mr. B in the future.

After all was said and done, Mr. B realized that the rates he’s being charged are, indeed, competitive. Perhaps more important, he came away from the meeting with ideas for things he can do now that will lower his rates when the next renewal comes around.

Meanwhile, John learned more about how to deal with his boss. He understood that when Mr. B started asking questions implying that John wasn’t doing his job, that was not the time for him to say “I object” and begin listing everything he had done to date.

Don’t Take the Bait!

When your boss – a supervisor, manager, team leader, or even the company’s owner – says to you, “Is this all you can do?” my advice is not to take that bait. Your natural tendency will be to become:

  • emotional
  • argumentative
  • aggressive

It’s better to “hold your peace” and calmly respond with something like, “From what I know right now, yes, that’s all I can do. But I will do more research and get back to you as soon as I can.”

Here’s another way to take advantage of the “speak now or forever hold your peace” approach. When you are writing to ask someone to review or respond to a time-sensitive document, take two steps back and add something like the following to your e-mail or letter:

“I look forward to receiving your response by _______ [enter date]. If I don’t receive any additions/corrections to the attached draft by ______ [enter date], I will assume it has your approval and will proceed.”

Caution: Use this approach sparingly… more to cover your bases than to actually nail down the other person. And I wouldn’t recommend using it multiple times to the same recipient. They could see you as:

  • not fully communicating your thought/ideas/solutions in the first place.
  • trying to force them into a decision before they are ready.

Still, establishing a time/date boundary draws attention, and that should prompt a faster response. Give it a try. Just remember, it is like salt on a salad… a little goes a long way.

In closing, let me say that if you make “speak now or forever hold your peace” part of your mindset during any negotiation or discussion, you can more easily contribute to a solution instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Remember, nobody likes to receive what they perceive to be bad news – especially people in a position of authority. You don’t want them to feel like they have to “kill the messenger.” Rather, you want to be mindful of success techniques that can help you resolve problems and move your goals (whether they are professional, personal, social, or health-oriented) forward.

[Ed. Note: Knowing when to speak and when to keep your mouth shut is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life.

One of the best ways to discover new ideas that could propel you to success is to meet up with bona fide experts… and follow their lead. This November, you can rub shoulders with some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. And all of them are very accessible, despite their legendary accomplishments. Who knows? They may accidentally spill some of their top insider secrets to add another zero or two to your bottom line. ]