How many times have you bitten your tongue in a board meeting or muzzled yourself when your boss starts spouting off? How many times have you failed to speak up when you disagree with your business partner? How often have you ignored your intuition and kept your mouth shut because you’re afraid of creating conflict with your clients, colleagues, or superiors?
Oh yeah, baby. I feel you.
Why I Kept My Mouth Shut At Work
When I was a medical student and resident, I felt powerless. The senior physicians in charge of my education were responsible for my grade, whether I got to scrub in on the big surgeries, and whether or not I got to graduate. To appease them, I endured frequent bouts of sexual harassment (like the surgeon who would hand me the suction catheter in the operating room and leer at me while hissing “Suck me good, Lissa. Suck me hard, Lissa.”)
I tolerated what amounted to assault and battery (like the time I came in with the flu and the senior physician shot me up with anti-nausea drugs, made me wear a Depends diaper, and forced me to scrub into the operating room until I passed out, then put me on a gurney, loaded me up with IV fluids and more drugs, and made me scrub back into surgery.) I ignored the orgasmic cries of my bosses having affairs in the call rooms when I needed their advice on patient care.
Most importantly, I kept my mouth shut, like a good little doctor-in-training.
On one level, I was rewarded for doing so. I made good grades. I got good evaluations. And I got a great job after I finished my training.
On another level, I suffered. I wound up with high blood pressure. I got divorced – twice. I had nightmares. I got sick often.
Even When I Had Power, I Kept Quiet
You’d think I’d finally find my voice to speak up once I finished my training, but I was just the junior associate in the group medical practice, so I clammed up when my boss started spouting off when I disagreed. I wanted to get promoted to full partner, where I would finally be rewarded with power and money and influence.
But then I got promoted to full partner, and I still didn’t speak my truth.
I was afraid of rocking the boat, fearful of discord within the partnership, insecure about my own ideas, and committed to avoiding conflict. In my practice, they called me “the glue.” I was the peacemaker. Everyone spoke their truth to me, and then I helped repair rifts.
But throughout the process, I kept my mouth shut.
Finally, I Spoke Up
Then one day, after what I came to call my “Perfect Storm” (I gave birth, my dog died, my brother wound up in liver failure, and my father passed away, all in 2 weeks), I found my voice. No longer was I willing to go quietly into the night. I had something to say – damn it – and by golly, I was going to finally say it.
So I started asking for what I needed at work. I spoke up at our weekly meetings. I expressed my opinions. I stood up for myself and my patients. I used my voice, for the first time – maybe ever.
After mustering up the courage to speak my truth, I got shot down. Nobody heard my voice. I felt powerless. And so I left.