In her Netflix special ‘The Call to Courage’, Brene` Brown talks about how things were for her in her younger years: ‘The fear of shame, the fear of criticism was so great… that I engineered smallness in my life’.

Brown’s story hit home for me.

I remember as a student knowing the answer in class, but not putting up my hand because I didn’t want my classmates to think I was a know-it-all or ‘too smart’. As an adult I recall the times I held back from delivering presentations or didn’t apply for certain leadership roles (even though I dearly wanted to) because I thought I didn’t know enough or wasn’t good enough. There have been variations of that behaviour right through my life, all with the common theme of keeping small and not speaking up.

But Brene’ says ‘Brave leaders are never silent around hard things’.

Gosh that’s a hard sentence to hear. Because, to be honest, the hard things are exactly the times I most want to be small and silent.

  • I don’t want to initiate a conversation with my colleague where I ask her to commit to doing her share of the workload rather than leaving it all to me.
  • When my friend asks me for my opinion on the work situation she describes, I’d rather not be the one to break it to her that it sounds like her behaviour towards some of her workmates is bullying and her language dismissive.
  • I’d much prefer to be silent and pretend it never happened than to acknowledge my poor judgement in a meeting and apologise to my colleagues for placing them in an awkward position.

Why do I prefer to engineer smallness in my life in these and other situations?

Because speaking up in hard situations feels uncomfortable and risky and dangerous.

And, as soon as we get a whiff of uncomfortable and risky and dangerous our human brain, which is wired to keep us safe and keep us connected to our fellow humans, starts screaming RUN! RUN! RUN!  Or in my case: ‘Stay small, get down low, be quiet and let this go away.’

What happens in your case?

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