A few weeks ago I was idly wandering the aisles of the local supermarkets, trying to find the mythical breakfast cereal that is both healthy and tasty when I came across a roadblock.

An elderly gentleman had parked his scooter opposite a product display while he perused the tinned fruit section and I watched as the woman in front of me became increasingly agitated.

She tried several times to squeeze past with no success and ended up almost hopping from foot to foot while muttering under her breath… and yet she said nothing. By this stage a bottle neck was developing with people queuing behind me and despite her frustration the woman did not speak up.

I decided in order to prevent an escalation, it was time to intervene. I stepped past the woman and approached the man who was oblivious to all the drama around him.

“Excuse me Sir. We have a bit of a problem as we can’t get past your scooter – can I hold your basket so you can back it up a bit? Thanks so much.”

The man was happy to oblige and the woman smiled and thanked me and we all went happily on our way.

Now you may well be thinking – “Well DUH – Simple really – all she had to do was say something!” And yes, it is simple – but simple is not always easy.

So what stops us from speaking up? In most situations it’s that dirty little F word – fear. It is fear which holds us back and stops us speaking out.


  • Fear confrontation
  • Fear rejection
  • Fear looking stupid
  • Fear criticism
  • Fear being seen as pushy
  • Fear being judged
  • Fear people not liking us.

Our fear is disabling and makes us passive and as our frustration grows we bypass persuasion and launch straight into pushy. I see it frequently in offices, meetings, boardrooms and, occasionally supermarkets!

Here are 5 simple steps for speaking up to prevent the molehill developing into an unsurpassable mountain.

1. Pleasantries first

  • “Hi Geoff, sorry to disturb you, have you got a minute?”

2. Clearly state the problem

  • “I received your report today, but it is missing the SA figures.”

3. Ask for what you want

  • “Can you please add them and email it to me as I need to print out copies for the presentation this afternoon.”

4. Offer to help if appropriate

  • “I rang Julie and she’s sending through the latest stats.”

5. Thank them

  • Thanks, Geoff – I appreciate it.


Simple! But not always easy, so it is worth asking yourself “I know, but do I do?” And next time you encounter a road block choose speaking up rather than road rage.

Sharon Ferrier
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