Leadership skills are developed at a very young age. If properly directed, kids can be taught skills to become leaders at home and school, especially when confronted with adversity.
A very impressive program for bolstering the confidence and leadership acumen of children while providing them self-defense trips and training is called radKids, which stands for Resisting Aggression Defensively.
One of the more notable lessons in radKids’ safety education program is teaching kids how to deal with bullies. What’s the line of defense for kids? Their voice. They are instructed to loudly stand-up to bullies by speaking and shouting out. “Stand-back!” “leave me alone” are phrases that will often cause a cowardly bully to recoil in shame.
Kids certainly do not have a problem being loud at home or in the classroom, so why is it that most kids do not naturally boom and bellow when they are being bullied, often in a very public space? The basic answer is the same for why adults do not affirmatively address conflict in the workplace or stand-up for their beliefs: fear.
Fear is a very irrational emotion, but it clearly drives the decision making of people in most workplaces, from the lowest-ranked staff members to the highest executives.
We have fear of retribution, fear of shame, fear of being wrong or being perceived as wrong, fear of confrontation, fear of other peoples’ reactions, fear of being seen as overbearing, fear of drawing the ire of someone in command, fear of being seen as a complainer, and on and on and on.
Starting with applying the radKids approach, the following are the five best ways to overcome fear in the workplace head-on:
Use your voice
If kids can use their voices as their first line of defense with bullies, then so can we. This might be as simple as addressing your concerns with a colleague the first time you have a misunderstanding so that you do not internalize the problem, or making your presence better known in meetings where you have always feared standing-out or speaking to superiors.
It could also include directly speaking-up when being inappropriately criticized or challenged. In an extreme case it may mean to bellow “leave me alone” when one’s boundaries and sensibilities are being grossly violated.
Making sure that you commit to being recognized and valued for your work. Be sure that misunderstandings and unprofessional conduct are not repeated. Both of these types of circumstances take effort and vigilance. Speak-up early and often, make sure that there are other parties present when behaviors are anticipated by offending parties, and consult with peers (always keep it professional) as necessary because they can validate your perceptions about yourself and others.
Follow chains of command, but hold everyone in that chain accountable
Get feedback from managers about your ability to speak-up and have your ideas count. When there is conflict the first policy is to address it with the source. If that fails, then you go to your manager, but make sure you express your expectations clearly for the next steps, if indeed your manager does not outline them himself or herself. Follow-up, set deadlines, and hold people accountable, with professionalism always.
Question your organization’s commitment to its principles
Principled organizations have their beliefs in writing, or discuss them frequently. Use those words in your quest for seeking the resolution of conflicts. Just like the Bible and the U.S. Constitution are guidebooks for life, always go back to founding principles to light the path ahead.
(If all else fails) Plan your exit
Ensure that you have done all you can to find your voice in your workplace, even just to advance the goals of your organization. If you are struggling with internal conflicts at your workplace or worse, then do not just leave without a plan – unless there is a far worse situation going on.
Recognizing that jobs are not plentiful these days, map out a plan for the next phase of your career, because there are countless people who wake each day and go somewhere they do not want to be doing something they do not want to do. Do not be one of them.
If kids can gain the strength to overcome fear, then so can adults in the workplace. Fear is the worst motivator in life, but unfortunately one of the most common. Make sure you find your voice in the workplace, especially if it is to stand-down the bullies that we encounter in all phases of life.