Friday, February 19, 2010


I worked with a Pastor many years ago who used to say "Everyone can have their say, but not everyone can have their way." At the time it seemed to make sense, but as I lived with the phrase over a period of time, I realized that it might not be the best advice. "Everyone having their say" began to generate into "Everyone can say what they please," and it would become ugly at times as people believed they had the right to speak their minds in public (and private). I work within an institution where this idea continues - both at public meetings and in private conversations. What has struck me about this belief of everyone having their say is that it does not hold true for EVERYONE in the organization. Those who hold leadership positions do not always get to have their say. Leaders are supposed to remain quiet while others get to rant and rave in whatever form they desire. They can ridicule, they can chastise, they can condemn, they can denigrate, they can "speak their mind" because they believe it is a God-given (American?) right to do so. And as they "have their say" they also hurt people and block forward motion. So what should leaders do when these situations occur?
  1. Call people out when they speak inapproriately - if something is said publicly that is hurtful, mean, or just plain wrong, then that person should publicly be told they are wrong and should be asked to apologize and/or re-phrase their comment in public. If this the offense is public, and the reprimand is not, then others will come to believe it is okay to speak in such a manner.
  2. Challenge people's thoughts ideas - when people "have their say" there are many times that they are just plain wrong. Leaders need to go to them and point out their error - and then ask for that person to make ammends by admittng their error and letting others know that they were wrong in what they said.
  3. Remind people of their calling and vocation - many times when people "have their say" they are putting their nose into areas in which they have no business. God has not called me to save the world - or the church - or the university - or the organization. He has called me to be a good steward of those places; but it is not always my right - or my business - to tell others what to do or how to do it. This can be a fine line when people serve on governing organizations - all the more reason to truly understand the role one plays within an organization.
  4. Develop and enforce guidelines for publilc discourse - people need to know what is acceptable behavior within a given organization or public forum. With a demise in civility these days, people believe they have an inherent right to "act out" in public. This can translate into ugly ways of speaking just because people believe they can "have their say." Kindness, humility, and compassion should be prevalent at meetings where people have the right to speak publicly.
  5. Teach people how to say, "I may be wrong" - this is a powerful phrase as people engage in discourse that has differing opinions. Since none of us hold the truth ourselves, it is important to know that what we believe and what we have to say might be wrong. Imagine how meetings would go (and organizations would function) if everyone believed and used this phrase.

The challenge leaders face is how to help people understand this concept and still keep dialogue flowing amongst members of any group - whether that dialogue be public or private. Holding these two concepts in balance is never an easy task, and must be dealt with in a careful manner, for fear of stifling thought and conversation. As leaders, we approach individuals who believe they can always "have their say" with the same kindness, humility and compassion we require of them - and we do so with the understanding that we too might be wrong.

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