The topic of race and racial injustice has recently taken its rightful place front and center in our society. This is such a big, important, and meaningful conversation that needs to be happening right now.

One of the common themes I’m hearing in the coaching community is that speaking up is scary. Of course, this is how we often feel whenever we want to take a stand about most really important things.

Many of us don’t know what to say and it feels like there are so many ways to get it wrong—we are afraid we're going to say the wrong thing, use the wrong words, make a mistake that hurts, and get publicly called out on it. And, we feel shame around this.

These are real fears. Many well intentioned coaches and entrepreneurs are making public statements that end up really missing the mark or they just aren't taking a strong enough stand.

It is especially important that we take a stand and speak up about racism despite these fears. 

I am deeply committed to continuing to learn and to do better as a mom, a business leader, and a human in our world so I shifted podcast topics once again to focus on this relevant issue.

In this episode, I share three things that I think will help us speak up with impact and care, around topics like race, injustice, and any topic that feels scary.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • The importance of facing your fears and taking a stand (even in the face of resistance)
  • Avoiding the trap of “performative action” and “missing the mark” in your messages
  • Recognizing your lack of objectivity and the need to take personal responsibility
  • How to slow down, process and calm the thought storm in your head so you can say things with greater clarity, impact and care
  • Why it is so important to ignore your feelings and listen to your body when speaking out

Listen to the Full “Speaking Up” Episode

Featured On The Show:

PREVIOUS EPISODE | Ep #95: Anti-Racism, Being an Ally and Doing Better

NEXT EPISODE | Ep #97: When You Realize Your Thinking is Repetitive & Unhelpful


Full “Speaking Up” Episode Transcript:

There are, I know that what it feels like and what I've heard in private conversations and in some of the public conversations is that there, it feels like there are so many ways to get this wrong. And as a white woman who has not done enough of my own listening and learning until very recently, I thought I had, and you may have heard me mentioned that before I thought I had been doing reading and, you know, to some degree it was nothing. And so I'm coming into this bigger, important, meaningful conversation that needs to be happening right now with not enough education. And I know that I'm not alone in that case, and yet still as leaders, we need to speak up. So we need to know how to do that when it feels scary.

Welcome to the Brilliance at Work Podcast, where we shine a light on where great work, charisma and growing a thriving business you love really comes from. I'm Michelle Barry Franco. I've been a speaker of thought leadership coach for more than a decade from TEDx stages to world famous conferences. And I've helped some of the most beloved business leaders grow their businesses and serve in the biggest way possible through their business and through their thought leadership. I love that. I get to share the best of what I've learned with you here on the Brilliance at Work Podcast. Hello? Hello. My brilliants. Well, I just came into my office after a, shall we say, frustrating conversation with one of my daughters? I mean, online school is hard. Y'all, it's just not pretty and it's tricky. And on many days I am able to find the words to say something encouraging, but other days it's just hard. Our girls are pretty much super, really do not like it at all this whole online school thing. And it was just kind of thrown in. So anyway, I know there are probably many of us who have children. If you have children, maybe you're having a similar experience. I know we're not alone. And I also know that it's not true for everyone that this is the experience. Some kids I've absolutely heard about are thriving with the online school. It's just not what's happening here for my daughters. It's universally pretty much a big fat crappy experience and the teachers are doing the best they can.

So, of course, all of this is on top of the backdrop of the horrible racism and social justice issues that have been around for hundreds of years, but that are rising up and finally getting even a fraction of the attention that they deserve and require from all of us. So, we're also having more of those kinds of conversations here in our house and in my business and with my team and all over the place. And some of these conversations are hard ones. And I'm not saying that like, feel sorry for me. Of course not. I'm a white privileged woman, but we're trying to work through how to, you know, make sure we do this right. And what are the right resources? How do we get the right resources to our team? How do I, how do I share them in a way that's really helpful in our family?

And we're talking of course about things like white privilege and what it means for us to have such privilege infused through our whole experience, so that we can't even see it and how that compares with what life experience might be like for black people, people of color. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't matter that we have some struggles in conversation, some difficult conversations around here, around what to say and how to see our own privilege deeply enough. When I say it doesn't matter. I mean, it, you know, this is what we need to be doing and we should have been doing it this much before. And I'm deeply committed to continuing to learn and to do better as a mom, a business leader, and a human in our world. It's a little bit, I don't know if I run it's the right word. But when I think about the topic that I'd already planned for today's podcast, we did, of course, a shift around what the focus of the next podcasts will be given the what's currently going on in social discourse.

Because, it's what matters. It's what's on my mind. I know it's what's on the minds of our listeners. It's on your mind. And so we want to talk about things that are of course relevant and I hope helpful. So we had already had the plan to talk about when speaking up is scary, but interestingly, it is sort of, it came up in a different way. As I was having this conversation with my daughter this morning, I call it a conversation. It was basically an argument. Let's call it what it was. And well, I don't think either of us felt that it was particularly scary exactly to speak up. We've been caught in these kinds of discussions and arguments before. It was definitely a difficult conversation with two very different opinions at play between us. What originally prompted this topic though. I mean, when I first came up with the wind speaking up as a scary topic idea was the larger conversation of course, about race and racial justice.

That's happening in our world right now because our company and I work with many coaches and wellness experts, we are paying special attention to what's going on in the coaching and wellness world right now. And one of the common themes that I'm hearing is that it's scary to speak up about topics like race and racism. Anti-racism – so many things that we need to take a stand around right now, as leaders, I hear regularly that a fear that we're going to say the wrong thing, use the wrong words, make a mistake that hurts. Someone may make a mistake that gets publicly called out that hurts us. And we feel shame around that. And I've absolutely felt all those things too. So, I'm hearing it out there. I've had all those feelings myself. And the fact is that all of these things are happening in the coaching and wellness world right now.

Well-intentioned white coaches and entrepreneurs are making these public statements that end up really missing the mark or not taking a strong enough stand like that. Maybe they felt like they were taking a stand, but it really was just kind of like posturing or just trying to kind of gloss over the very real issues. I think they're calling it performative action. And so we are absolutely seeing this happen or they're offering anti-racist resources and guidance and forgetting to address the black and people of color in their audience. So, maybe sending out an email or something on social media, speaking only to white people in their audience and not mentioning at all the parts of their audience that are black Brown and indigenous people of color. So there are, and I know that what it feels like and what I've heard in private conversations and in some of the public conversations is that there, it feels like there are so many ways to get this wrong.

And as a white woman who has not done enough of my own listening and learning until very recently, I thought I had, and you may have heard me mention that before I thought I had been doing reading and, you know, to some degree it was nothing. And so I'm coming into this bigger, important, meaningful conversation that needs to be happening right now with not enough education. And I know that I'm not alone in that case, and yet still as leaders, we need to speak up. So we need to know how to do that when it feels scary. And maybe even when we don't have the kind of education around how to do this, that we should have, and that we hopefully will have as we continue to listen and learn and try to do better. So, I too have so much to learn. And honestly, because my audience is smaller than many of my clients, I have the side effect, the side benefit really of learning from their broader reach because my ingrained racism is invisible or subconscious to me.

I mean, there are parts of it that are conscious that I can see. And, I also know that there are parts that I just can't see. I don't even know when I'm about to say something that is hurtful. And I know that's happened for my clients and for lots of people in the coaching and wellness world, this is really true for all of us who, who do not have the experience of living as a black, Brown, indigenous, or person of color. And in particular of particular interest in focus, meaningful focus right now is living as a black person. We cannot know what that's like. We just can't, we're brought up in a system that's so full of racism and inequality that we don't even question it. Like we don't even know to question it to the depth that it needs to be questioned. So we are starting to scratch the surface of this right now, but it's so horribly overdue.

So, my friend and colleague Moe Carrick shared an image on Instagram recently that said, it's not my fault. And I am responsible. And it felt really helpful to me. It was a little jarring at first to see it's not my fault because I know defensiveness is not where we want to go. And that's not the, that is not what this is saying, what the post was saying and what this little sticky note image that she was sharing is saying, is that just because we didn't cause the racism that started whatever hundreds and hundreds of years ago doesn't mean we haven't been perpetuating it. It doesn't mean we haven't been actively participating in the systems that maintain it. So we are responsible for shifting that, for changing that, for stopping that. So, to clarify if it's my fault, if I hurt someone with my words, that is somewhere where I need to take responsibility for the thing that I've done, that part is my fault, but we're talking about institutionalized racism here.

No, I didn't cause this racist system, my white colleagues and friends did not cause the foundations of this system, but we are all responsible for doing better and teaching our kids to do better. This podcast is not just for my white colleagues and friends, of course not because I see you, I stand with you, my black, Brown, indigenous, and people of color community as well. And I know that we all need to speak up when it's scary. And in fact, in many ways there's a good chance that you know, way more about this than I do, or at least in regards to the racism in our world. I thought about the best way that I could, from my experience and expertise, contribute to how to speak up when speaking up is scary. So this larger conversation is inspired by, or this conversation is inspired by the current larger discourse and it really applies to any and all conversations that are scary to have.

So I offer it up with that in mind. I just wanted us to, you know, of course acknowledge the backdrop from which this idea came forth. So, since I spend a lot of time thinking about how to say things with impact and care, this topic has been swirling in my mind for a long, long time. And there are three things that I think help us most in speaking up when it's scary. So, I want to share those with you. The first thing is know why you want to say what you're saying. I do not mean you have to justify it to anyone or even tell anyone else your reason. But if, and when you meet resistance around whatever it is, you're speaking up about having a strong connection with why this matters to you is going to help you stand your ground when you need to ground yourself.

Go back to that. Calm mind, that clear why. A couple of weeks ago, I had a difficult conversation with a family member who has very different views on many things than I do. And I know that we both know that and we'll, we've never talked about it. It's pretty obvious that we're on totally opposite ends. Uh, politically for example, he made a public statement that I felt was harmful, and I felt like it was overall harmful and also possibly harmful to some people in our family. And I decided to say something about it. I've never done this before. I was super afraid. It was scary. I didn't want to, I didn't want, I didn't want to mess with the relationship that we have because that matters to me. But I also really felt like I needed to. I needed to say something about this.

I felt like it was important that I take a stand in this particular time. So, I was afraid because I knew that his views are strongly reinforced and held as our mind. And that really frankly, me saying something, it was very unlikely that I was going to change his mind in any way. And this normally stops me. You know, my brain goes well, it's not gonna make any difference anyway. So why say something? But in this case, when I thought about why say something, I really felt like it got closer to home. Now this I no longer feel like that needs to be the case. By the way, this discussion that we are having about racial injustice is making a lot clearer to me that it doesn't need to be happening in my family for it to matter and be worth me speaking up in this particular case a few weeks ago, I was willing to take the stand and go through the scary experience because I felt like it was actually getting close to people that I cared a lot about.

It had to say something. And that why is what helped me through a tricky conversation. We had the conversation. I don't think we came out with any new agreements or anything, but we, we both know where each other stands and the relationship is still there. It's all right. I've had the circumstance where I had the strong impulse to say something at other times. And, you know, I just was ready to come out with it. I have a passion, I'm somewhat known in my closer circles for my passionate communication. When I stopped myself on some of these occasions, especially as I've gotten older, when I was, when I was in college and in my early twenties, I was ready to debate the moment. I felt a rise in energy around a conversation, but when I've stopped myself in the last decade or so for just a minute to check on why this mattered so much to me, there've been times I've realized it actually didn't really matter that much, but yes, I had a rise in my body around something somebody said, but that it didn't, it wasn't something I really wanted to take a stand for.

This happens frequently, I would say, as a mama and as a partner with Jim, my husband. So, and I'm glad that I have learned to take that moment and just check in, okay, wait, why am I going to bring this up? Because a lot of times it just dissipates. I don't want to say this as a way to let all the scary conversations fall away. When you just look at, you know, I don't want to hold it up to the super high bar that says you better have a really strong why. No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying check in on the why so that you're connected with it. And then if you decide to have that conversation, you'll be able to access that why more readily when it's, when it maybe gets a little more difficult as it can at times. So when I come back to thinking about my why around the social, the social justice, the anti-racism conversations that I am actively doing my best to be a part of right now.

It's really the more, the more I learn and the more I listen and choose who I listened to. That's a huge part of how I connect with a why that matters to me, the more black voices I listened to, the more voices of people of color, the more powerful my why becomes when I realized how little I was listening to a broader diversity of voices. I see how I haven't been as inclined to speak up. This is not an excuse in any way. I'm just grateful to have had the guidance of colleagues and friends who have shared all kinds of Instagram leaders and people to, you know, leaders out in the, in the diversity and inclusion expertise world that I can follow and listen to, and really deepen my own. Why? Because yes, I still feel afraid when I'm taking a stand. I always have.

I was the kid in class and I'm not just talking like in kindergarten and grade school, I'm talking about in college. I raised my hand a lot, but every single time I raised my hand in class, even if it was to ask a question. So this wasn't even to have the scary conversation. Every time I raised my hand, my heart was beating. My face was flushed. I still don't. I can't explain it, but I still kept raising my hand. And, that is part of why I'll be able to tell you more about how I feel about feelings rising up in our body. So that's coming soon. That's the third point I'm gonna make. But the second one I want to share with you is know what you want to say. This may seem really simple, like so simple that it's not worth mentioning, but actually this is key.

Recently, I've seen this lots of times. I'm sure you have too. I recently watched a friend fumble his way through a response to someone who confronted his views. He was taking a stand. I watched him fumble his way through his response. And all I kept thinking was, wait, wait, wait, just stop for a minute. Just think for 10, 15, 20 seconds, about how, what you want to say. And it was just clear that he was just quickly responding. I mean, I've been there. I'm embarrassed to admit that way more than once I've been so emotionally charged. As I indicated earlier, that I leaped into some fancy soliloquy with all the words and then halfway through it all turned into like a jumbled bunch of nonsense. I mean, Oh, they're just so many times I can remember just kind of realizing, wishing that I could just get myself to say, you know what?

I don't know what I'm saying anymore. I'm not sure if I ever said it that clearly I wish I could go back and do that. Sometimes that energy that rises up in our body can lead us to take action to say things too quickly, because we want to actually do something about the feeling. It's a way of avoiding that intense feeling that rises up on our body. You know, that feeling I'm talking about, right? When a conversation starts that you feel strongly about, or when you see something happening in the world that you want to take a stand against, or when you hear, you know, when your, when your child does something that, you know, you need to help teach them through and it all rises up in your body. And we want to do something to ease that feeling in our body. But I want to say, don't let that guide you.
Don't let that feeling make you take action before you know what you really want to say. Stop. Just think a minute. Think for 15 seconds, know that the feelings in your body are a very normal part of being human and caring about something deeply. So this leads me to number three, the third thing I wanted to share with you about speaking up when it feels scary, and this is probably the most important part, the most important guidance or offering that I can give you, and it is to ignore your feelings. And, Oh my gosh, I can just imagine thinking of, of my listening audience and, and what I know about who you are. And there are so many of you going, what, how can you say ignore feelings? Because we've been told things like, let your feelings be your guide, check in with yourself and decide, and even the often good, but I think misunderstood, check your body compass or check what your body's telling you.

If you have a human body and brain, then you are going to feel all kinds of sensations in your body. Your feelings are intimately intermingled with the conscious and unconscious thoughts that run through your mind and heart. It's just how it works. Things show up in your brain. And they mingle in with a whole set of physical sensations that come through your body. It is just the natural, normal human experience. And here's the thing it's not nearly as instructive of a system as we are led to believe. Now, I know I've worked with some amazing somatic coaches and I do not mean to say that I am a somatic expert here at all. So this is not me saying that our body does not give us signals that are useful. Not at all. Our body is an incredible source of information and support and all kinds of things and things that are way out of my league to even talk about.

But I think what gets misinterpreted in the world and especially in the world of coaching and wellness, from what I've seen is there's this knee jerk kind of, well, if you're having all those feelings, they must mean something. And let that tell you what action to take. That's just not true. I mean, our feelings, just like our thoughts, our thoughts and our feelings are largely out of our control. I also realize I'm making another very controversial statement right now, and yet I stand by it here. I am speaking up once when it's scary, because I know that that's not what everyone sees as the truth, but I tell you, I feel the most strongly about this because of my work, as a speaking and thought leadership coach, I am telling you the bodies of my clients and my own body continually tell us, stop, sit down, leave the room.

Do not say the thing, danger, danger you'll be killed. You'll be ousted from the tribe. Our body says, no, don't do that danger. Our brain says that too. That is not what we look to. So, I think the best way, the way that it has become most helpful for me to think about the feelings that show up in our body is just the full recognition that our thoughts and our feelings, the conscious and unconscious thoughts, by the way. So, I'm not just talking about thoughts that you could particularly name. It is my absolute experience, that there are times when all kinds of feelings rise up in my body. And I have no idea what brought that on. Now I can go and I have to my own detriment gone and tried to name a bunch of thoughts that probably are associated with that feeling. And by the way, that has meant that I have had terrible conversations with partners with my kids, because it's actually a fallacy.

We don't have to know what thought brought up all those feelings. We don't have to know. We just have to know that that's a human experience. It is something to notice. It is something to notice. And also there's a whole different place to look. And this is what I have found the most helpful. And there's that place in you way before this momentary rise of feelings in your body that knows what you stand for. That knows what you care about. That knows what your call is. And that is what that is. What is inspiring you to want to speak up when it's scary? You don't have to go look at the thoughts and the feelings. You don't have to do a bunch of work on that. Those thoughts and feelings do not cause your actions. They're just something that happens in a human body, your actions cause your actions.
That's what actually causes your actions. There's a pause there. When you can see that thoughts and feelings will rise up in your body and that you have a moment when you're noticing this happening, where you can just wait. It's a beautiful spacious pause. I love to think of it like the beautiful pause. Let calm come in. Invite comment. I don't mean you have to feel totally peaceful and certain before you take the next action, but give yourself a pause. Give yourself a minute. Because when you're willing to feel anything, when you know that whatever is rising up in your body is going to move through it, move through like the weather. You don't have to do anything. Think about that. Like don't just believe me, think back to whatever, whatever last emotional kind of strong emotional response you had. And if you can think back to a time when maybe you didn't get too caught up in the thoughts around it, what happens I think is we start to tangle up in a bunch of thinking related to those feelings and then kind of just extends the whole storm.

The thought storm continues. Cause we're, we're in there, tangling it up. One of the best visuals that I have found for this is imagine that you're, you're standing in this river and you're talking with a friend and you're playing with a ring on your finger and all of a sudden, and it's a ring you love like maybe a family heirloom or whatever. You just love it. And it falls into the river and this is a quickly moving river. So what's your first instinct is to go down into the river, right? And like try to find it. But this river it's got a mud base. What happens when you dig around in that mud? Trying to find the ring though water gets muddy. Doesn't it? What happens? What do you need to do in order to have the best chance of seeing if your ring is there?

So you can get it it's way, right? It's just be still, well, our brains work like that too. So if you give yourself a minute, you don't give all those feelings too much. Meaning then you can start to take action that you know is purposeful on purpose. That is according to your call. That's when speaking up, when it's scary has so much more freedom in it. Yes. You might feel a bunch of things. And by the way, there might be a series of these emotional reactions. You speak up, maybe you don't do it perfectly. Yeah. Me either lots of times. And maybe someone tells you, you didn't do it perfectly. Maybe they tell you publicly, maybe you get called out publicly. And that is, I think what a lot of us are really afraid of is being called out publicly. But what if, what if you were willing to feel anything?

What if you knew that whatever feelings rise up, if you made a mistake, which is, I think one of the biggest fears that so many people have about speaking up when it's scary, if you made a mistake, you're probably going to have all those feelings rise up in your body. But if you knew that that would pass and move through and you would be able to connect in with your purpose and why this matters enough to you to say, and it didn't matter so much that you might go through a few phases of intense feelings as you learn how to speak up more and more, think of the freedom. You have to share what you want to say. The meaningful, important things that you want to say. I want you to feel a connection to that freedom. There's no guarantee you're going to say it, right?

Of course not. Or that people will like what you say or that you won't regret something that you said later, that's a part of being a leader who takes a stand. We do our best. We listen, we learn, we apologize where we need to. We try again. We try to do better. We repeat, I haven't read the book White Fragility yet. I have it on order but it's back ordered. I can't wait to read this book. It's been recommended over and over again. We'll put it in the show notes. I know for sure that my own fragility has been at the heart of so much, not speaking up that I've done. So that's white fragility by Robin de Angelo. I haven't read it, but so many people are talking about it and I just can't help. But think about not even having read the book yet.

What if I knew I wasn't fragile? What if my feelings could fill my whole body overwhelmingly even? And I knew I'd be okay out the other side, because when I think about it, that's actually completely true. I just don't know why we don't talk about this more. So here's what knowing about your own strength and ability to feel things allows you. It allows you to say what matters to you to blow it, even to get schooled by someone to learn. You might even cry a lot. You can learn from this note that by the way, this could not happen. If you didn't say the thing first, you wouldn't get that learning. Say a new thing better this time. Learn again, see how this goes. And of course you won't always blow it. Sometimes you'll nail it on the first try, but be careful not to give that circumstance too much credit.

Right? I mean, I know, I try to think about that for myself. It feels good to say the scary thing and have it work or land. We don't learn. Then we don't learn as much. And that's okay. I mean, speaking up can be hard work. It's exhausting. If you are a black, Brown, indigenous, or a person of color for so many years, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean about that. It's got to be exhausting trying to speak up all the time. I don't know the 1/100th of it for my white friends listening. We can handle the speaking up thing too. We've got to, so let's do this. So my friends, speaking up as part of our role as leaders in our industry, that is scary as, okay, it's actually really normal. We're human. And yet there's so much impact learning and growth on the other side of sharing our voice, even when it does feel scary. And I know that you can do this. You know how I know that because my friend you were made for this, and I know that because you know that have a good week, take care.

Thank you so much for being here with me on the Brilliance at Work Podcast. If you want to know how to tap your own most natural charisma as a business owner, leader and speaker, you can download a free copy of my book Beyond Applause, Make a Meaningful Difference through Transformational speaking. This includes a free short course that helps you get crystal clear on the message at the heart of your work. You can get a free copy of this book and that short course at brillianceatwork.com/free book. I hope you'll love it.


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