Finding Your Voice

I am sure you can relate to the feeling of being powerless to do anything to address a moment of crisis. You are met with indecision as you lay out in your mind the limiting factors. This may be a scene played out in the organization, interpersonal relationships, at the level of representational politics or in the green grocery. Caught in freeze frame, we debate the pros and cons of finding our voice in a challenging situation.

Retrieved from Google Images, October 24, 2013

Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Over the past few days, I have been quite aware of the conversations that take place around me. I have watched the subtle and yet not so subtle non- verbal cues of persons who find themselves in circumstances that emphasize the power imbalance. We exist in a world with many polar opposites; weak-strong, introverts-extroverts, energetic-lethargic, powerful-powerless and the list can be expanded.

For many, there is a pre-occupation with creating rules and regulations that limit the voice of those who desire to speak. Such constructs become institutionalized over time and rob us of the opportunity to harness the ideas and innovation from our communities.

For example, a hotelier expresses interest in a prime property that attracts locals year round. Without a collaborative approach to what could be a great opportunity for both investor and locals, the result is resistance by those who believe their rights are being eroded. Add to this scenario, the rigid posture of the State representatives (powerful), the investors (powerful interests) and the local community (powerless), and we see the development of a relationship that has begun on a shaky premise. If the locals continue to be denied an opportunity to be heard then the likely result is that they fall silent. Or so one would think?

We have observed through historical data that where the disenfranchised, whether in the organization, society or other communities are denied the right to be heard, the results are usually disastrous. our modern history is replete with examples of events where the marginalized have began to push back. Think of the Arab Spring!  What have we learned from these events? What are the painful discoveries that should provoke new thoughts about “expanding the pie”. We have been taught to look at the pie as fixed. If everyone wants a slice,  we encounter the problem of dividing the fixed pie to meet their needs. Workable?

Perhaps not!

  •  But what if we explored the interests of each stakeholder?
  • What if we schooled ourselves in the art of patience?
  • What if we worked through the challenges using mutually acceptable processes of engagement?
  • What if we adopted an approach of collaboration?

And I could go on with more and more questions.

I want to submit to those who are think that they are voiceless, that they are not. Just look around you! We have seen/read the story of Shanique Myrie, a Jamaican who challenged the behavior of representatives of Barbados about how they address issues relating to travel (http://www.sknvibes.com/news/newsdetails.cfm/79889). An awareness of one’s rights is critical to the process of airing one’s grievance. In the digital world, everything becomes instant news. Be aware of the tools and means available to you to have your story told. Social media attracts millions who take part in a global discussion about any and everything. Why not share your narrative with the desire of exploring new ways to address similar concerns?

We need to begin to construct communities that are inclusive. In a conversation with my sibling, she made the observation that many who lead lament the fact that a significant number of people are skeptical of leaders in any discipline. As the conversation progressed about the human condition, she made this powerful statement that is worth repeating. “If there are no precedents, how can we as leaders expect to see functional teams and by extension the fruits of such teams?”

I am sure you can cite other examples of the voiceless who find a voice.

My advice to you is to:

  1. Be thorough in your research. You exist in a time where information is at the touch of a button.
  2. Utilize the expertise offered from State agencies. That would give the least costly option.
  3. Document events that have led to your feeling voiceless.
  4. Document steps taken to address concerns and outcomes.
  5. Where applicable, identify others who have experienced similar challenges. This network of shared experiences will allow for rich data to inform how to proceed.
  6. Compile your resources and write to the individual or group on the matter of importance.
  7. You will possibly not get a response in your first attempt.
  8. Keep communicating your concerns.
  9. Be patient.
  10. DO NOT GIVE IN!

Recently, whilst on a short trip home, I was drawn to a conversation among fruit vendors. They expressed deep concern about their livelihood as arable lands were not available for lease and if they were they were hard-pressed to get financial support. This was followed by a deep sigh and the emotionally filled voice…”then what can we do”.  I stepped in, uninvited and initiated a conversation similar to the one I am having with you now.

In the end, I was able to help them articulate their needs without the tone of “I give up”.  We identified the sources they would approach to get information as well as to find those persons who are able to support their need to speak. Not sure if they acted on it. I would want to believe they did.

Copyright Suzette Henry-Campbell 2013

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