If You Don’t Have Something Nice To Say

May 22, 2012

We’ve all heard the familiar saying “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Bullshit! Our ears are duly tickled, but the hidden agenda at the core of this counsel is positively poisonous.

Don’t let anyone impel you to surrender your voice with his or her rhetoric of control.

You have a responsibility to participate in the purpose of your organization. One of the most effective things you can do to enhance the leadership process is to keep your mouth shut, not as an act of submission but as one of support. If you are always running your mouth its clear to everyone except you that the only purpose you really give a damn about is your own.

The leadership process requires your voice. Listen first to affirm others and to understand their motivations and perspective as best you can, then say what you think needs to be said, not what others tell you needs to be said. There is no love in withholding the truth as you know it from those that need to hear it; it is an utterly selfish and cowardly behavior.

Over time, sharpen your ability to use both your head and your heart to make your voice a consistent, credible, and purposeful instrument in the service or your organization. You will never make everyone happy, which will make it seem like you get it wrong as often as you get it right; however, that can never be an excuse to wear a mask of contented compliance.

Surrender your voice and you surrender your dignity. Surrender your dignity, and you will become all too comfortable participating in processes that force others to do the same.

Say what needs to be heard, when it needs to be heard, as best you can say it. Learn from your mistakes and strive to continually improve. Grow very comfortable with the fact that almost everything else is beyond your control.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (21)

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  1. Excellent points, Bret. I would add that besides using your voice, use it respectfully and professionally. Otherwise, your great ideas, opinions, and thoughts will not be listened to in the future.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I agree 100% MJ, and I appreciate you adding this point to the conversation. My only concern is that in my experience terms like “respect” and “professionalism” have become part of the rhetoric of control – labels people put on each other to try to get them to sit down and shut up. Being respectful and professional is something we have to hold ourselves accountable for. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  2. simone Lao says:

    I didn’t shy away on one incidence. What happened? My boss sent an email to me suggested that I should quit my job. No! I was not fired.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Simone. Good for you. Don’t let anyone bully you… Thanks! Bret

  3. mark estee says:

    What a great post! It takes guts to lead like that and really it is the only way! The easy way would be to only say what people want to hear, you make a great case to not do that anymore. When i first got started in the kitchen, i worked with a few old timers and they would coach me after the sous chefs would walk by and stir things up. The best take away i got from these lessons was that when you find your voice, you must use it 100% of the time. If you miss once, that is what people see and remember. They told me that if a leader sees something wrong they need to speak out 100% of the time, and if they don’t, they may as well be doing it the wrong way too! I added that i like to also recognize the positive too, but that is another story! Dr Bret, thanks for always stirring up the good stuff!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Mark! Thanks for adding your personal insight to this. As always, very helpful. LOVE the observation that it must be 100% of the time or you are colluding with stuff that will ultimately harm you. Thanks! Bret

  4. Beth says:

    Hi Bret,

    You are so right when you say “Surrender your voice and you surrender your dignity.”

    I think many leaders feel compelled to keep silent because they think the risks of speaking out are too great. But as you point out, that the risks of staying silent are still greater.

    The trick is to “speak the truth as you know it” in a way that furthers communication, instead of shutting it down. A leader must use his voice to preserve his dignity, but in doing so he must be sure that he preserves the dignity of the hearer(s) as well. There’s no point in starting a tug of war that will end up with someone in the mud, just to be right.

    I’ve found that when a situation becomes emotional, it’s best to pull back and craft a response plan to pull everyone back from the brink of blame to focus on the problem. Conflict can energize a team if it’s navigated appropriately.

    Leaders must learn to communicate difficult messages with diplomacy, using the approach that William Ury calls principled negotiation in his landmark book, Getting To Yes.

    I agree that leaders have a responsibility to “speak the truth.” But w must do so aiming for the best resolution, speaking with gentleness and humility, and leaving the way open for response and dialogue.

    Just my take.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Wise counsel once again, Beth. I hope folks will click the link back to your own blog and see more of what you have to offer there. Doing a great job! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Bret

  5. Bret,

    How offensive, you used an unprofessional word (bull#$%t)!…Just kidding! I advocate that adults use adult language to express their ideas and feelings.

    I wrote an article titled “Stop Being so Nice and Start Being More Real!” and blog post
    that are consistent with your blog. I also wrote one about what positive thinking really is: http://competeoutsidethebox.com/2012/01/31/think-positive-or-delusion/

    Dr. Eric J. Romero, PhD

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Eric. Actually, bullshit is a technical term 🙂 Thanks for sharing! Bret

  6. Bill Clayton says:

    I read a bumper sticker—those wonderful sources of knowledge and inspiration—a few weeks back. The message was short but thunderous: Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Bill. LOVE that quote. That has often been the case for me – not just my voice but my entire body. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  7. Ronian Siew says:

    Hi Bret,

    I chanced upon your blog from a blogroll at another site (http://adamsearcy.wordpress.com/) who had included your blog in his blogroll.

    I must say I really appreciate you writing this post. Many at times in my career, I wanted to know if there are other people out there who would speak up or stand up for his/her colleagues to a “dictator boss”, and to voice the view that the words “professional” and “respect” have indeed been rhetoric way too much. Questions which linger in my mind are “where do you draw the line between professionalism and superficial management bullshit?” and “are you being authentic or just saying what needs to be heard to protect your position and get yourself promoted?”

    I have, in my career, been “punished” for standing up for my colleagues against a bad boss. People ask me why I continue to do it even if I don’t get backed up in return and if it hurts my career. I don’t know the answer to this question. But I’d like to echo what “Steve Rogers” said in the recent movie “Captain America” when he was asked if he hated the Nazis, he said, “I don’t hate anyone, but I don’t like bullies.” Maybe that’s what it is for me. I don’t like bullies. Perhaps it is better to be punished for doing the right thing than to be promoted for all the wrong reasons.



    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome Ronian. I really like your perspective and appreciate you sharing it. Sounds like we have travelled a similar path in our careers. Thanks! Bret

    Ronian Siew Reply:

    Thanks for the response, Bret! I look forward to reading more of your posts and to scan through your website. It looks like you have really worked hard both as Professor and Entrepreneur. That’s awesome. I have bookmarked your blogroll on my own site so I’ll be sure to keep checking in for more insightful posts.


  8. This thought right here is incredibly powerful:

    “There is no love in withholding the truth as you know it from those that need to hear it; it is an utterly selfish and cowardly behavior.”

    Bret, well-said. Caring about someone means stepping up and having the full conversation.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Skip. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I concur. Bret

  9. Jake Nady says:

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve written. And the soundbite is a great takeaway I’m going to incorporate often. “Surrender your voice & surrender your dignity.”


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks, Jake! Bret

  10. David Sieser says:

    So true. People use well worn phrases like this in order to bludgeon the opposition and squelch real dialogue. Thank you for pointing this out!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, David. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret