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When is it the Wrong Time to Say or Do the Right Thing?

By Fred Treuhaft  |  Aug 30, 2017

Recently I was chatting with someone who was brand new to a board.    They were dealing with a very controversial issue, but, were hesitant to voice their comments at the meeting.   That is when I asked them “When is the wrong time to say the right thing?”.   Over the years, I have found that this is very common.   Very good people with good thoughts are afraid of sharing them.  Why?   Many reasons, including:

–They believe that they don’t fully understand the issue

–They are fearful that they can’t articulate their position appropriately or thoughtfully

–They fear that they will be ostracized or criticized for speaking up

–They feel that they are too new to a board and that it is not appropriate for them to speak up due to this

–They are strong introverts and have difficulty speaking up at meetings

What is similar with all these thoughts is fear.   “What kind of goof will I appear to be if I share my thinking?”   This really is unfortunate as all board members have the right to speak and having diverse thoughts increases the odds of ending with the right result.  Fortunately, I have been blessed (or cursed) by not having that fear and contribute often during meetings, albeit many might say too much!

Here are some lessons I have learned and try to practice:

–Count the number of people around the table.   Take the time allotted for discussion and divide by this number of people.   You are entitled to your fair share of time.   For example, there are 12 people on the board and there is one hour for the meeting.  This would indicate that each person should have five minutes of discussion time.   Now keep in mind, someone typically is presenting or others may have more involvement.  This may limit the time that you would have, but, you are still entitled to some time, perhaps 2 or 3 minutes.   How may times have you been to a meeting where most people do not speak?    My caveat to this is there is no need to repeat what others have said.  Just because you are entitled to some time, you don’t have to say the exact same thing.  But, you very well may want to say, “I agree with Fred” or something else showing that you have listened, processed and concluded similarly to someone else.

–Pay attention to the ratio of listening to talking.   This is mostly directed to the extroverts.   How much time are you talking as compared to everyone else?   I have been at plenty of meetings were someone hijacks it or perseverates  on an issue.  It is very important that the facilitator of the meeting recognizes this and calls on others for their thoughts and comments.   I have to admit, I have been guilty of this, but, over the years I have become far more aware of my ratio of listening to talking.

–As Stephen Covey included in “The Seven Habits of Successful People”, first seek to understand before being understood.   Have a good grasp of the issue before commenting on conclusions.    This does not mean not to comment.   Take your time to ask questions and generate the understanding.   I was once at a very contentious meeting about selling some property.   When it came time to vote, two people voted no.  This was a very close vote and their vote was important.  When asked why they voted no, they said that they didn’t understand.   Here they sat the entire meeting through very lengthy discussions and they did not ask one question or seek any clarification.  If at that point you still don’t understand, then abstain!

–Gain perspective of the issue and the audience.   I am on another board that one person really doesn’t have perspective on the other board members and their roles or the significance that the have.  This person routinely interjects and their really isn’t any value to the other members.   I may sound judgmental with this comment, but, without the perspective, this person may actually be misplaced, on the wrong board or they should have some orientation when joining the board to better understand.

–Take risks!   Like the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall, Practice, Practice, Practice”.   I am a relatively new member of another board and I cringe at a few of the questions that I have asked.   Oops!   Without asking what was probably a goofy question, I would not have learned.  I would have assumed something that would have carried on with me during my tenure on the board.   You cannot learn without making some mistakes.   Most everything we are involved with today craves some sort of innovation.   I cannot think of any organization that doesn’t seek creativity or thought leadership.   How can we achieve this without risk?  Without submitting new thinking that others may not understand or said another way, that is not understood, yet!

Is there are wrong time to say or do the right thing?   My answer is NO.   I urge you to go for it, while balancing input with the respect and tolerance for others.   When you do, you will grow as a board member and a person, which will strengthen your organization and the community.


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