The Way to Say It: 10 Reasons It Pays to Speak Up First

Someone's got to go first!

Don’t be a scaredy cat! Speak up.

As children we couldn’t wait to be first. First to raise our hands. Answer the teacher’s question. First to get in line. Somewhere along the line that all changed.

We began hesitating. Holding back. Suddenly we waited for someone else to go first.  We watched to see what THEY did, or what THEY said.

As adults, we avoid being the one to speak up first, especially when it means being open and vulnerable.  We think to ourselves…“Not me! Let someone else go first!”

But we miss out on so much by waiting! We stuff our true feelings. Awkwardness increases. What we want to say gets more and more difficult, the longer we wait. We get stuck in our heads.

I observed this pattern when I was 16 while vacationing with my family. In situation after situation, I noticed adults afraid to speak their minds and share their feelings, especially when they had to lead off, or break a long silence.  It struck me as particularly odd that even when it was a compliment or praise to share, most people STILL held back! No one wanted to go first!

I decided “not me.” I began taking the lead in honest, direct conversations.  I shared compliments with strangers. I asked probing questions. I shared my feelings openly. And I made some startling observations.  When I expressed my feelings, the benefits far outweighed the risks. Every time I paved the way, others followed my lead. They opened up to me, and fast!

People willingly dropped their guard, as long as they didn’t have to go to bat first. It made such an impression on me, I committed to GO FIRST.  It’s a choice I have stayed with.

children raising hands happy

Remember being like this?

We don’t have to hesitate.

We don’t have to wait for others to speak up.

We can express ourselves authentically.

Like the children we used to be, we can once again “go first.”  Here’s what we gain by being the initiator: 

  1. Awkwardness fades.  Everyone feels the same inside…anxious and awkward at the thought of these conversations.  Going first ends the discomfort. 
  2. Time is savedBreaking the ice ends the pattern of everyone waiting for SOMEONE else to lead. Someone really has to go first…why not you?
  3. Grace is givenWhat words you choose or how eloquent you are is less important than opening up the dialogue. No one worries cares if it was worded perfectly.    
  4. Respect grows. Speaking up earns you respect. You’ll be perceived as confident and brave.
  5. Trust builds.  Your honesty builds trust with others because you’re opening up.   
  6. Doors open. Others will be more responsive and open, following your lead. Be prepared!
  7. Speaking up gets easier. Over time it becomes natural, easy and comfortable to speak up.  
  8. Visibility expandsYou become the go-to person known for getting things started, for speaking the truth.   
  9. New behavior is modeled for others. Your example becomes a model for to follow.
  10. Connections develop. Starting conversations opens doors to develop connection and  understanding.

My choice to “go first” still serves me well.  I’ve gained the trust of others. People have shared their feelings more easily because they already knew mine. Going first has opened doors and hearts to me and made it well worth the sometimes risky business of leading off.   Occasionally I’ve taken some “shots” for opening up dialogues others wanted to avoid, but those experiences brought great lessons with them.

What about you? Do you go first?  Instead of pointing fingers at people in your life wondering why they aren’t open with you, ask yourself this:

“Am I making it easy for them to open up? Or do I just sit back and wait?”

Take an honest look at yourself today. Then give it a shot. Go first. I’m looking forward to hearing your experiences.