On Being a Squeaky Wheel

If we want help from our guides and angels we must ask for it – and be specific about what we want… there is a reason for this “rule”… They are trying to teach us that speaking up is how we get what we want in life, period. Yet, I find so many of my clients are tongue-tied, thus their lives have stalled, they are stuck in jobs they dislike and relationships that don’t work any more.

Perhaps it’s my curiosity, perhaps it’s just my impatience, a driving need for progress, but I always have a lot of questions and requests… fortunately, speaking up has worked to my great advantage over the years.

The squeaky wheel in me became very obvious in college when a young man approached me to ask if he could sit beside me in our accounting classes. I knew him through the group of us that hung in the cafeteria between classes, so I said, “sure, but why?” I couldn’t help but laugh when he said “because you ask all the questions I just think about…” A few years later, I was transferred to our Western offices by the oil company I worked for and was quickly fast-tracked into a management position in systems… I had been hired with 6 of the top students from our  class. Maureen, a lovely Asian woman who used to teach math in Singapore had the highest marks of any of us in the group… I lost touch with her when I was transferred west, so I was very happy to see her at the door of my office one day… but she was in a temper, marched to my desk demanding to know “how did this happen?” She was distressed to discover that I had been promoted so many levels above her… so I sat her down and spoke about being the squeaky wheel… I told her how I had eliminated job after job by asking questions about it and then finding ways of doing the tasks much more easily… and how every time I ran out of work, I went to my boss to ask for more… I also suggested that she go talk to her manager and Human Resources to let them know that she wanted to be promoted, that she was ready for more responsibility…. a few months later I heard that she got that promotion she wanted… and a few years later I heard that she was  the head of her department. Well done Maureen, you learned to speak up.

Speaking up is about making your needs known, standing behind your work, your beliefs, your thoughts and ideas… it’s about being heard, being noticed… if you want a promotion or a raise, you usually need to ask for it… while a certain amount of modesty and humility are always necessary, no matter what we do in life, a willingness to ask for recognition is often as necessary… When you are doing quality work, when you are more than meeting expectations for your position, and doing so consistently over time… speak up – it is OK to ask to be noticed.

One of the hardest places for most of us to speak up is in relationship. We’re afraid to rock the boat, to be rejected… to be alone… so we don’t ask the hard questions or speak up about what we really think and feel… hoping that one day, s/he will change… but unless you speak up, unless you ask for change, it’s not likely to happen.

There are times though, when it can be dangerous to speak up in relationship.  In fact, there are times when it is critical to “go quiet.”  If you are in an abusive relationship, there is no sense in confronting your abuser – but there is a lot of sense in quietly finding help, making a plan and then being very alert for any opportunity to escape. Another instance when it is essential to go quiet is when emotions are running high… continuing to speak up will only escalate the conflicts… the best solution in such a situation is to withdraw for a bit, give everyone time to calm, and you time to ground and clear your head.

A willingness to speak up is key to your progress in life… being a squeaky wheel can be a real asset… but to be effective, you must choose the time and place and frame the request in such a way that you can be heard… in a sense, you must earn the right to speak up… for example, Maureen’s performance was outstanding, had been from her first day on the job – she had earned the right to speak up, to ask for more.

Whether in our careers and business lives, or in our personal lives, the more you question and request, the more you reach for understanding and clarity, the more likely you are to succeed…

Note: This is the second in a series of articles on opening up. See the first article, Say What You See, and watch for the third on How To Speak Up – and Be Heard. to come soon.

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