Why Speaking Truth to Power in the Workplace is Important

April 5, 2022


Mural painting of "Speak Truth To Power" on a brick wall

One of the toughest things to ask of yourself is to speak out when it would be easier to keep quiet. It could be pointing out a clerical error in a spreadsheet you’re working on, calling out bad behavior from a coworker, admitting that you made a mistake on the last project, or even telling a manager that what you’re doing is not working.

It may seem easier and maybe even smarter to keep quiet rather than rock the boat, but I want to encourage you to be brave and speak up when something isn’t working, especially to people in a position of power. This can nurture an honest, productive, and overall more pleasant workplace 

What Does “Speak Truth to Power” Mean?

“Speak Truth to Power” sounds like the name of a self-help seminar or political history book, but it’s not nearly as complicated or dense as those concepts. It merely means exactly what it says.

Speaking the truth to the people in positions of power. Courageously going to authority figures and calling out injustices, mistakes, or things that just plain don’t work, and demanding change. 

I know the word “demand” sounds intimidating there. But remember, just bringing awareness to the problem is half the battle. More often than not, once the problem becomes obvious, the need for change will take you the rest of the way. 

Why It’s Important to Speak Truth to Power in the Workplace

The concept of Speaking Truth to Power first came from a black Quaker demanding social change during the Civil Rights Movement. This concept has always required a lot of bravery from the person doing the speaking. We see that and we understand.

The people working on a different level might see things differently than the leadership does. It could be that a project manager doesn’t see a computation error where the people doing the actual calculating will. A boss that works in their office may not see some problems and disagreements that happen on the floor of the factory. It’s not that they’re being ignorant, but their paths just might not take them to where those seemingly glaring problems lie.

You’re not trying to cause problems, you’re not being whiny, you’re not sabotaging someone, and you’re not being a kiss-up. You are bringing awareness to something that might make your workplace environment feel less safe or something that could make your product work less effectively or with less quality. You are doing it for the good of your team, the organization you work for, and the people you serve. 

Leadership may not like what they hear, but they should be grateful that you’ve brought this to their attention so they can do their job as leaders and address it. 

How to Speak Truth to Power Effectively

So now you’re thinking, “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll speak truth to power.” But how?

Well, think of the Golden Rule. How would you like someone to deliver similar news to you? Kindly, in a private setting perhaps, with evidence to the problem and maybe even suggestions for how to fix it. 

Keep in mind that most of these problems are likely accidental, as is letting it go unaddressed. Don’t make it personal. If you can, wait until you’ve seen a few different instances of the problem. Document what you see and if it applies, see if you can get some trusted coworkers to help you bring it up. No one said you had to do it alone! 

For more information about Speaking Truth to Power in the Workplace, take a look at some wise words from the pros at ASAP!

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