Getting to Yes, And

Unlearning Silence


Elaine Lin Hering

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Kelly talks with Elaine Lin Hering a former managing partner of Triad Consulting Group and a lecturer at Harvard Law School, specializing in dispute resolution, mediation, and negotiation. Her new book is called “Unlearning Silence: How to Speak Your Mind, Unleash Talent, and Live More Fully.”

You write in the book, “I’m the model minority myth incarnate.” How so?

“I am the youngest daughter of an immigrant family from Taiwan to the United States. I grew up in the Christian Church. All of that basically tells me: turn the other cheek; bite your tongue. To respect other people is to give deference to them, to not push back, to not ask questions. You're a good team player. And if no one else in that context is speaking up either, I guess that's just what happens around here.”

You tell a story in the book about early in your career when a senior colleague took credit for your work, and you didn’t say anything.

"There's so much in the way that we operate, particularly if you carry subordinated identities – meaning a woman in a male-dominated environment, non-white person in a predominantly white environment - that if you carry a subordinate identity, you already are facing an uphill battle of being inherently othered, less likely to be invited to those conversations more likely to be questioned. So, it is even greater risk for me to stick my hand up, test the waters, and say, ‘Hey, actually, it was me. Give me credit.’ And, by the way, I wasn't raised that way, right? I was raised to put my head down, work hard and people are going to reward you for it. So, how could I challenge someone who's senior to me; who's been here longer; who has more organizational, institutional, and hierarchical power? I mean that’s not a bet I want to take.”

You also talk about how much we miss when we won’t allow ourselves to engage in difficult conversations.

“How I came to this is certainly my lived experience, but it is also more than a decade of teaching leadership development workshops around communication skills for negotiation, difficult conversations and feedback, and noticing that, however much money the companies paid, however good the training might be, some people still didn't have those conversations. Why is that? Because we've all learned silence, and in our careers been rewarded for it. Right? If you don't say something, you don't rock the boat. If you don't say something, you're easy to work with, and that is prized. If you don't say something, we can end this meeting because it was a waste of time, anyways. But over time it also creates a culture of silence.”

Photo Credit: Cat Coppenrath

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