I’ve never been one to sit back idly and swallow my opinions. If it feels like you are wrong or a minor injustice is occurring, you can count on me to let you know exactly what I think. Just the other day I was recounting two instances where I spoke up in the only language other than English I have ever been fluent in – Indonesian. They were actually comical episodes I was using to illustrate a point.
The first occurred when I was in Manhattan. I was rushing to an appointment in high heels, and one shoe broke. The heel just snapped off in the middle of an intersection. I hobbled to the sidewalk carrying the severed limb of my shoe and surveyed the situation. Half-way down the block was a shoe store. I “heart” New York. I limped in and was taking a quick inventory of styles and prices when I overheard two young women trying on shoes. They had very different styles on each of their four feet and were comparing and contrasting, chattering away in a foreign tongue. I made my decision and as I walked to the clerk for help, I casually bent down near them and said, “I love the boots but they will be killer in the heat of Jakarta.” in Indonesian. They both looked up shocked then one smiled and said “Selamat Jalan”, have a good journey.
The second instance also occurred on my way to a meeting. I was carrying my portfolio of photography and advertising work to a client in one of the high-rise building in Jakarta. The empty elevator gave me a moment to practice my sales presentation which would be conducted in Indonesian, over cups of hot tea with cigarettes burning all around the conference table. On my way up to the 12th floor, the elevator stopped and two local businessmen got in. I smiled and went back to my thoughts. One turned to his friend and made a remark about me, the other replied with a rather crude come-back and they both laughed. As I exited, I turned, and in perfect Jakarta street-slang told them they really should be more careful with their language. They looked at me in horror as the door slid closed.
Speaking up has also gotten me into some tough situations. In 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission instituted Reg. FD which stands for Full Disclosure. Briefly, this means any public company can not engage in selective disclosure of pertinent facts that would lead an investor to trade in the company. All information must be made available via press release or the Web simultaneously to all audiences. It was an attempt to level the playing field for smaller retail and private investors. This becomes tricky when doing one-on-one conversations. You can only stick to public facts and if something non-public is said, a press release is required at the earliest opportunity.
While on a road show to visit large, institutional investors, one of my clients was lured into a conversation about financial results and made several comments that were not public. I took him aside after the meeting and said we needed to issue a press release. He became enraged at me and swore there was no problem. The situation stayed with me until I returned to my office. I went to the company’s compliance officer to voice my concern. A week later, the client company decided they no longer needed my services.
Speaking up can also bring joy. To tell someone how much you love them, even though you assume they know that and don’t need to hear it, may be exactly what they DO need to hear. Speaking up in their defense, or just to tell the world how proud you are of them, is never wrong.