Brand Yourself as a Builder, not a Destroyer

Sharon Melnick is a friend of mine — and a very wise woman.  The other day I read an article she wrote about how to speak up when what you say might be unpopular.  This is good stuff folks, check it out…

I was asked by a group of women leaders to show them how to speak up with an unpopular idea. The next day I was asked by a group of male bankers how to be a trusted advisor to big company CEOs if their advice is not what the CEO wants to hear.

Have you been in a situation that requires such confidence? And courage!

That’s right: You start to squirm as you have that inner debate whether to speak up: On the one hand you want to share information that will be viewed as valuable, on the other hand you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or face repercussions that would threaten your business. You worry: Will I receive negative feedback, lose respect, be shunned…or fired?

How can you have confidence so your ideas are well received and you prosper in your career?

Here are 3 powerful strategies for courage to speak up with your unpopular idea:

1) Focus on your Beneficiaries. Instead of thinking about what others’ response to you will be, take yourself out of the equation. Focus on the beneficiaries of the points you raise. As the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said: “From caring comes courage”. Here’s where you have an opportunity to own the value of your role, especially if you are a trusted advisor (and you want to make yourself one no matter what position you are in). Who will be helped, or protected, or served by your input?  Do your homework thoroughly beforehand and know your stuff, then when in the room see yourself a champion for the truth. Be proud of your integrity. Often as women we will negotiate or take courageous action on behalf of others but not out of our own convictions. When necessary, leverage this tendency so you can muster your courage to speak up!  As men you might pride yourself on being a protector,  leverage this tendency to see past the fear of the moment and offer advice that will lead your client (and all the people involved) to a greater long term outcome.

2) Get air cover. When you want to speak up you are most concerned with the ‘political fallout’ (i.e., what people will think and say about you in the future). If you know you have information or positions that will be difficult to raise, see if you can float the idea ahead of time and get your manager, mentor, peers, or sponsor to back you up. Another helpful strategy is to raise the idea with key opinion leaders before the meeting (whenever possible) to see if they have any suggestions about how to ruffle the fewest feathers.

3) Build rather than Destroy. Even if your point is unpopular try to say it in a way that bridges with what others have said, so that your idea seems more like a build on others ideas rather than a criticism. Have conviction in your voice and maintain a pleasant, neutral tone (ie., you are not making them wrong, you are trying uplift everyone):  “I think your idea makes sense if we are thinking for the short term, but if we look at it in terms of the long term impact I would recommend we do it this way instead.”  Share with them your thinking, and how you came to your conclusions.  Even if your strategy is different from what they have proposed, try to frame your ideas in terms of “what is in it for them” so they will be more likely to buy-in.  And if you truly disagree in whole with what others are saying, then have the courage of your convictions and say so!  Expect that you will be challenged so be prepared to back it up with facts and strong reasoning. Then take a deep breath and go for it!

As Anais Nin once famously inspired us to remember: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Here’s to your confidence!


I like all of Sharon’s advice — especially the third point — build rather than destroy.  When you find yourself in disagreement with another person or group, I suggest you look for any small point of agreement and build on that.  Don’t begin by tearing down others’ ideas.  Begin by acknowledging them.  This brands you as a builder, not a destroyer — and most folks prefer to be around builders.

Your career mentor,


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