Knowing when to put yourself on the line for what you believe in these days can be a precarious task. Trusting yourself more than you trust your co-worker may be your first line of defense. Finding your footing when you feel that every misstep may lead you closer to the front door all the while looking over your shoulder determining whom you should trust. Speaking up for yourself when you feel slighted in the workplace is a gamble. There was a time when being vocal and expressing yourself was considered a true sign of your leadership and personal integrity. Now you have to weigh the odds even when the top brass encourages you to “speak freely” under promises of providing an “open work environment.” Not true. When in doubt you have two choices: 1) Put up or, 2) Shut up.
The workplace is a very strange land these days offering little in the way of comfort, stability and security. Not knowing which end is up is a common complaint among people who find them selves struggling to keep the job they have and hate, vs. trading it for a new one. Feeling reluctant at every turn, the only trust you have is to know you have a choice when it comes to putting up with your less than desirable work situation. Many of you have lost faith in corporate America, knowing there is no such thing as “retirement” and that having a “safety net” in the way of a pension plan, retirement plan or any other plan that may take care of you when you need it most is a thing of the past. You need to look to only one person to take care of yourself and that is you. Sorry to have to deliver the bad news but these days nothing is for certain as companies reinvent themselves or moreover, just struggle to try and survive. The least of their worries is whether there will be any money left over to fund a retirement plan let alone pay for an annual bonus.
This sad fact really forces you to make two choice: 1) whether it’s time to put up with your current situation or is it time to 2) shut up and stick to what you know. No one wants to put their neck on the line for anything or anyone unless they think it will pay off in the end. The risk is too high. When there was once some integrity and nobility about speaking out against the status quo, now there is just fear, intimidation and the threat of losing your job. That’s not a risk these days that anyone is willing to take-no matter how noble the cause. It’s not that we are creating a corporate culture of naysayers and mediocrity. We are creating a fear of freedom of speech which we now categorize as your ability to be “politically astute” when it comes to dealing with complex situations in the workplace.
Let’s face it, it’s just not that much fun working anymore. But, unfortunately, we are not left with too many alternatives including the choice of retirement. So when the odds are against you what do you do? It’s not that easy but you have one thing going for you and that is you still have a freedom of choice. You can choose whether you want to work for a particular company or individual and you can choose under what conditions you will allow yourself to work. The difference between putting up and shutting up is really a timing thing. Knowing when to assert yourself and realizing when it’s really a good idea to just sit it out, is a precision decision and nothing more. Making the choice to put up with a situation that is anything than desirable means you are biding your time until the right opportunity comes along to, 1) either assert your point of view, or 2) quit. Knowing when to shut up is no different. There is a time and place for everything as someone, (I have no idea who) once said and this is a perfect time to know when to use it.
Ok, now that you are thoroughly depressed here’s the good news. You are not a quitter or have not sold yourself short by any stretch. You are a survivor and when the tide is rolling in and out your ability to survive depends on how well you can do one thing-float. It’s easy to give up and to give in- quitting is just one option you have any time you want to exert that choice. But there is a certain discipline, elegance and dignity in knowing when to listen, nod and just keep yourself focused knowing that you don’t need to put up with an undesirable situation for too long. Learning when to shut up is really an art form. It takes a great deal of patience, composure and above all discipline to know when the battle is not worth fighting and you are best served by remaining silent. Don’t take this as a sign of weakness or giving in. Having the good sense to know when it’s your turn to speak up or speak out is something only you can teach yourself. So next time you feel the need to “tell it like it is,” just remember, is it really worth it and is there a better way? At times like these you don’t always have to fight the tide-sometimes it is better to float.
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