The ‘Said’ and the ‘Unsaid’

There is an expression I hear regularly around the table of the executive meetings I lead. It is “I have to___” (fill in the blank). To me, this comment comes from the “survival brain.” It is born in burden and sacrifice and it is a close cousin to “I should,” “I ought to,” “I gotta” etc. In addition, these openers carry an “unsaid” piece that follows on – something like “…but I can’t” or …”we don’t have the money and/or time”…”they won’t let me, etc.” When I hear the, “I have to…” it usually comes from a place of feeling victimized or overwhelmed and I know nothing fruitful will come of it.

This conversational pattern passes for normal and quite often will get you off the hook of further questioning from peers. It lets your own mind off the hook for performance. It also masks the real consequences of failure to act, failure to produce the results in question, or failure to have that important, scary conversation that’s being avoided. Needless to say, there will be consequences!

However, closer examination of the “unsaid” part of these statements can be very valuable in discovering both what stops you and what will give you an opening for action. Let’s look at the simple example of “I need to…” (the ‘said’), ”but I don’t have the time” (the ‘unsaid’). Instead of suffering from internal criticism and stress, what if you were willing to say “this project is important and I am not going to assign it as a priority right now” or, “I have allocated all of our resources to other work.”

If you can stretch yourself to this level of honesty then you have brought yourself to a place where you can make conscious choices. You might even discover that you’d rather reduce other commitments in favor of the one that you were about to fail at and feel bad about.

Some of the power in bringing the unconscious and unsaid “cant’s,” “they won’t let me’s,” “I don’t know how’s,” etc. to the surface is being able to see what stops you being able to assure yourself that you really have prioritized all of your activities correctly, and being able to consciously design strategies to achieve the results you “have to” have.

Even better, by bringing the whole statement to conscious expression, you have returned yourself to a place where you really have choices. You are no longer under the bus, you are driving the bus!

To further your development, start noticing and recording your automatic, self-defeating statements and identify the “unsaid,” in each of them. Note the patterns. Ask the people around you to point out when you make these disempowering statements. Ask yourself – can I allow myself to be really honest with myself and others on my team right now?

While this activity may seem simple, it is not as easy as it sounds. The other side of doing some serious work in this area is dramatically increased productivity and greater clarity and freedom.

Category: Leadership


About the Author: Dwight Frindt

“What does it require from a leader to create team member focus, collaboration, and effective action particularly in times of externalities that create tremendous stress?” Such questions have driven Dwi

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  1. Also, “Didn’t have time” = “it’s not a priority”, but we don’t want to make people feel badly…need to be honest with ourselves first then we can be honest with others.

  2. Yes Jon – absolutely! Thanks for your comments!

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