Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace


It felt like someone punched me in the chest.

Yesterday I was told to “soften my words” in an email that I was drafting to female faculty and staff members. Apparently, my directness in laying out expectations for this professional group of female leaders across campus was deemed too harsh.

Should we really “soften” expectations? I think doing this can cause the very issues we often hear about in Student Affairs—the challenge in understanding muddled expectations can result in a loss of role clarity and confusion about duties and responsibilities.

So why did it bother me so much? It was just one simple sentence asking me to “soften” my language and make it more encouraging. I think it’s because women are often constrained by others who send them subtle (and not so subtle) messages about what it means to be female. My “direct” email should not have anything to do with my gender. However, the response I received made it a gendered issue.

Was I too direct? Or more importantly, would that have been requested of a male leader—to “soften” their words? Probably not.

I made a decision to not address it. Choose your battles carefully, I always say. But I couldn’t sleep last night which is my body’s way of telling me to take action.

So I did. And although nothing may change, I spoke my peace. Here’s hoping for a more restful sleep tonight!

When have you been compelled to speak up at work? Tell me about it.

Follow me at @annmarieklotz

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About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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7 Responses to Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

  1. Karen Gibson says:

    This would have fired me up too. Good for you for speaking up. I often speak up when I can’t find peace with being silent or when I feel like I am being inauthentic with my silence. Personally I prefer clear expectations over muddled, “softened” ones. Ultimately this makes life easier in the long run. Direct and clear doesn’t have to be ugly or hateful, which I’m certain you weren’t being.

  2. Beautasia says:

    Thank you for sharing. I can relate to your post. I often have a sharp tongue. I often feel restless if I don’t take action, or if I feel I need to protect others. Being a superhero isn’t easy, nor being a superMOM , superCEO or superSTUDENT. Be gentle on yourself. I often have these thoughts, so I’m posting my link for you to read and share 🙂 Also, check out my recent tweet, it explains how I feel today. Beautasia Blessings, here’s to great sleep tonight!!! :B

  3. Julia Duhan says:

    This is something I struggled with in my first job. I was never afraid to speak up and at first was praised for this, but eventually chastised for it. In my everyday life I’m fairly blunt and not afraid to speak up, but am still trying to figure out how to navigate this as I re-enter the job market.

    In this case, I think you were 100% correct for speaking up. When it comes to expectations, I think anything but directness is a waste. If it’s anything but, it’s interpreted as 17 different things and no one is happy in the end.

  4. Christine Feit says:

    I appreciate your post. As someone who has been told that my passionate (and direct) advocacy for students doesn’t always “feel good” to those on the receiving end of that message, I have been trying to figure out to what extent I need to change how I share my message. I work among majority women. Fine line between professional growth in how I communicate and remaining authentic to who I am.

  5. Viraj says:

    Thank you for writing this! As you know, I really struggle with how to handle gendered feedback about my work performance — specifically, the fact that I often get told I’m intimidating. Lately, I have been asking myself a few questions as inspired by the #Cronkbc selection, Bossypants.

    1.) Is this person’s feedback going to hold me back?
    2.) How does this feedback make me feel? What triggers is it activating within me and why?
    3.) What kind of person/professional/woman/etc. do I want to be, and does this feedback help me towards that goal?

    The reflection has been helpful as I continue to think through what it means for me to be “intimidating”. I still don’t have it figured out, and I doubt I ever will, but I finding the conversations wonderful! I’m excited to hear about how you navigate the internal conflict about “softening” your expectations.

    • Thanks everyone for your insightful comments! I am both glad and dissapointed to see that others have had similar experiences.

      We are all learning together. Let’s enjoy the journey!

  6. Laurie Berry says:

    Thanks AMK for putting this out there for us to connect with. Since entering my PhD program and because of the interest I have with WISA I am noticing more gender issues. Not sure if it is because my radar is more sensitive or because there appears to be more issues arising.

    I often wonder if I would be treated differently if I were a male doing whatever it is I am doing. Ultimately I am not able to find the diffinitive answer I am seeking. I, like you, rely on cues to help guide my responses. Ultimately, I strive to be able to sleep well at night knowing I did the right thing for me and others I serve.

    Thank you for sharing your gauge and for standing up for what you believe to be right. You continue to inspire me and many others.

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