Have you ever had to speak to someone who has more rank than you do, about a delicate topic?  Just imagining doing this is frightening to most of us.  In order to grow your capacity at home and at work, and to resolve issues, there are times you will need to do this.

I will name five keys to speaking to authority well.

  1. Ground yourself before having the conversation: breathe slowly, stretch, exercise, and do whatever you need to do to create inner calm.  I like doing the Navy Box Breathing

    Photo by Alexander Suhorucov

    You gotta click on that link and listen to this guy’s voice, it is unreal. Inhale through your nostrils for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out through your mouth for 4 seconds and hold 4 seconds, repeat.

  2. Remember your rank relative to theirs. And know that there are other types of rank in addition to positional rank.  If you are shy and intimidated by them remember that you have a special strength. There is something you are really good at, something you bring to the table of your life and business.  Maybe you are a great listener.  Maybe you can break the tension at the right moment by getting others to laugh.  Maybe you are skilled at appreciating others.  You might not be the best in the world, but you are one of the best, at that one thing, in your circle of influence.   Have this awareness in mind as you imagine the conversation.  See Dr. Julie Diamond’s article on personal power for more.
  3. If you are courageous and outspoken, you will do well to realize that they are above you on the organizational chart, but not more important than you as a human being.  You can say, “I have some challenging things to say, and I’m aware that you are my boss.”  Or “I have a lot of genuine respect for you as a person” (if you do) “and you have seniority over me in this business, that I will not threaten.  And I have a perspective I want you to consider.”
  4. Prepare for what you will say. You can do this in a variety of ways.  I like to talk w/a trusted friend who has at least 10 years on me.  I will also talk with a coach, who is trained for this very type of conversation.  Finally, if needed, I will script how I think the conversation will go, and how I would like it to go.
  5. Let go of outcomes. In my best moments I go into the conversation holding my message somewhat loosely.  It will not destroy my day if this does not go as I hope for.  I am resilient. I might even tell them,  “I want you to know I have some feelings about this topic, but I am not overly-attached to my perspective.  I can let go.”

I wish you well in all your conversations.  Do not avoid talking about the important matters, even with those who have higher rank than you do in your organization. They need your feedback!