Impactful Leaders Speak Up Not Down

pic for blog

When my family gets together there are always loud discussions and debates about topics of big concern as well as unimportant nonsense. We are never at a loss for words to share and express, although some of us are more vocal. Opinions and judgments fly around like seagulls circling for fish at the beach. It’s not that we don’t enjoy being together or care for one another but rather we each hold onto our beliefs tightly. We get into a rhythm of thinking our perspective is the way everyone should view the matter being weighed.

In much the same way, the people we work with either on our teams or in different departments engage in these same types of debates. When we collaborate on a project with someone, differences of how to tackle the process can arise. Just like my family we may honestly think our views are the only way to look at finding the best solutions. It’s the way we communicate our opinions that can make or break the ideas we share.

Here are four ways to swap speaking down to speaking up:


When we are working alongside people on a project or collaboration, we get to know both their strengths and blind spots. Just like with my family members, we may not realize that we are straying from the issue at hand and making the conversation about the person. If that happens, it would be great to just take a step back and refocus the discussion. The best results will come if we remain on target with the problem at hand.


Our choice of how we share our message is crucial in making our points. Using “judgy” language like: “You are so lazy” or “You can never come through” will only escalate and derail a constructive solution.

  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Be descriptive
  • Don’t assume or presume


We all have our reasons of why we feel a certain way of approaching difficult issues. Sometimes there is no perfect right or wrong. Successful outcomes require us to be empathetic and peer into the other person’s lens. Ask yourself: Why are they viewing the situation this way? What might be impacting such an opposite perspective? Do they have a point and should I be considering it? Speaking down only incites and increases the confusion.


When my family argues, I am usually the one to step in and try to figure out what common threads run through each of our different suggestions. Often we are not so far apart that we can’t string all our ideas together. Someone needs to rise to the occasion and take action. Similarly, in our workplaces the opinions may seem at opposite ends at first but in reality have more similarities. Jump in and lead the way with a positive statement about working toward the same goal. First, list out all the suggestions on a whiteboard or flip chart. Then create categories to put the ideas under and then develop an integrative plan.

How do you lead by speaking up and not down? What tips can you share on pulling together opposite perspectives?




10 thoughts on “Impactful Leaders Speak Up Not Down

  1. I love the image of seeing from “their mountain top.” In fact, you brought to mind the idea of pausing to see yourself climbing their mountain before speaking. That pause may give you a moment to take in the views.

  2. What a meaningful visual of “pausing to see yourself climbing their mountain before speaking”! That is exactly what can help us formulate what we want to say in the most impactful and respectful way.

    It is so important that we recognize that the people we work with come from different perspectives and might actually have the solution we need.

    Thanks Karin for a terrific addition!

  3. I love the points you make here, Terri!

    In particular, not to be “judgey.” That is a place where I’m constantly learning at deeper levels because I am a judgmental person! Unfortunately, the person I judge the harshest is … me!

    Although judging others is not an attractive trait, neither is judging oneself too harshly.

    A great post and a great reminder!

  4. You bring up an important point about how hard we can be on ourselves sometimes. When we accept our blind spots as areas to grow and realign, we are more likely to do the same with others. We all have skills we want to grow and new lessons we want to learn. We are leading at our best when we can do the same for the people we work along side.

    Thanks LaRae for being so honest and sharing!

  5. Terri – Every part of your post resonated as I read it. First because I deeply believe what you are saying. Secondly because my focus recently has been exactly where your view is!

    It is so easy for each of us to become completely consumed with our own feelings, beliefs and desires that our entire focus become about us. The truth is that we live in a world with other people, and it’s not all about me.

    When we take time to view the world from someone else’s perspective, we have tremendous opportunities to experience less frustration, more love, more joy and more peace.

  6. We do become consumed with our own vantage point and sometimes find it so hard to see why others on our team view things so differently. If we are committed to opening ourselves up to new ideas and suggestions, we definitely will grow and become better leaders.

    I love your words, Chery, “When we take time to view the world from someone else’s perspective, we have tremendous opportunities to experience less frustration, more love, more joy and more peace.”

    I appreciate all your additions!

  7. This is really a fantastic post, Terri. The leaders I admire most were truly willing to get down from their mountain peak and give mine a climb to understand my perspective. Did I always win them over? No way! However, I did feel respected and heard.

    Glad to know that all families (and teams) face these challenges. Thanks for giving us a way to open our ears, hearts and minds to someone’s perspective other than our own.

  8. I agree Alli that the best leaders I have met along the way were always willing to listen to how I felt even if it meant toppling some of their hard fought perspectives.

    Our families are a great playing field to witness group dynamics and leadership as they teach us critical lessons of how to stay open minded even if we want to shut down an idea. With both families and teams we tend to get stuck in our particular roles and have a challenging time when we need to change up the roles for new ideas and opinions.

    Thanks Alli for always sharing your stories and lessons learned!

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