Lose your fear – speak up

Why we are afraid to speak up

Standing up for yourself even when you risk retaliation.

Fear is Rarely Rational

I am a Humanist and a realist. While I would love it if everyone was civil and disagreements were handled, respectfully, I also live in the real world. And in the real world people can be kind of nasty.

One of the courses I offer through Humanist Learning Systems is a NO FEAR Act training. This is a training required for all members of the US government every two years. It is a form of mandatory anti-harassment training. The NO FEAR Act is an acronym for The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act.

One of the things I like about this act, in addition to it being required by law every two years, is that it ties the anti-discrimination effort to the need to deal directly with the problem of retaliation. I also love that it is designed to protect employees from the fear of retaliation if they report discrimination or harassment in the workplace, because that fear is real. The problem is that a training telling you that the law protects you from retaliation isn’t usually enough to convince people to report wrong doing by their coworkers or bosses.

Don’t get me wrong, the laws that make harassment, discrimination & retaliation illegal are important because harassment and discrimination does occur in the workplace, most workplaces and the economic damage caused is also real. The other thing that is real is the fear of speaking out to defend yourself and others from harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

That fear is justified. People who speak out and report harassment or discrimination are almost always targeted for retaliation. And if the person you are reporting is your boss, they have the power to make your life miserable.  And if studies by the Workplace Bullying Institute are to be believed, 75% of the time, the person reporting harassment or discrimination suffers from retaliation.

Our fear of speaking up to defend ourselves and others is a real problem and it prevents people from doing what they should be doing to stop abusive behavior in the workplace.

Overcoming our Fear

How can we overcome our fears of retaliation and stand up and speak up for ourselves even when we risk retaliation.

The first step is to understand that retaliation is not just likely – it’s inevitable. Even though it is illegal and counterproductive, it’s going to happen. In a behavioral model retaliation is a predicted behavior that is basically a manifestation of an extinction burst. When you stop allowing someone to do something, they do it more to regain control. 

When you accept the fact your abuser will retaliate, it empowers you.  Yes, it’s still scary, but knowing it’s going to happen means you can plan for it to happen. And the ability to plan makes all the difference. It means you have the advantage.  The abuser can’t help behaving the way they do. But YOU have the ability to be strategic about how you report and document what is going on.

Knowing that when you report, your abuser is going to retaliation means you are prepared to document what happens next. Most people are under the impression that all they have to do is report a problem and it will be dealt with.  That’s not realistic.

What really happens is that you report, and your abuser retaliates. What happens next is up to you. Most people give up and assume reporting didn’t work.

Instead, knowing that when you report your abuser is going to escalate their behavior means that you can and should document everything they do and report it all. The worse their behavior gets, the worse they look.

Yes, this is stressful when it happens to you. And yes, it is scary to trust that people will see what you see. But the powers that be can only see what you see if you share with them what is happening. And if you do, they will and they will eventually be forced to take corrective action.

To learn more about how to end harassment and retaliation in the workplace consider taking this course – Ending Harassment & Retaliation in the Workplace

And if you have a kid who is dealing with bullies in school – consider getting them my book The Bully Vaccine or signing up for my Bully Vaccine Project website which includes video lessons, a copy of the book and more.