I was speaking at a business event last week, when a woman started chatting to me. After the usual pleasantries, she said: “Your eyes are glazing over. You’re obviously not interested in what I’m saying.” Embarrassed, I reassured her that I was. But a few minutes later, she said it again, adding with a smile: “That’s ok. We can’t all be interested in everything, can we?”
Her words left me rattled. I was being perfectly polite, so was there any need for her to speak her mind so frankly – especially when she knew I was just about to stand up and talk to a room full of people? Was she really being “honest”, as she claimed, or was she just being plain mean?
Sadly this kind of incident isn’t unusual. It’s known as “speaking your truth” and it has become very popular among female entrepreneurs – however bad for business it might seem.
I help small businesses with their PR, and barely a day goes by without the exchange of ‘frank words’ of some sort from a fellow entrepreneur. One sent a very long email explaining, point by point, why my free webinar wasn’t “up to scratch” (the feedback from the other participants was positive). Another wrote to say she was unsubscribing from my newsletter because I’d “gloated” about being on a short break in Italy and she couldn’t afford to go on holiday. Then there was the person who wrote to tell me that I must be a very “uncaring person” because I couldn’t give her an earlybird ticket for my latest event, despite her missing the deadline by days.
While these sentiments are, thankfully, outweighed by the positive comments, it’s the mean-spirited remarks that stick in your mind. Each of those correspondents took time out of their day to write an unconstructive message that might hurt someone’s feelings.
The famous men and women who aren’t afraid to speak their mind
The famous men and women who aren’t afraid to speak their mind
1/10 Leonardo DiCaprio
On climate change: 'Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.'
2/10 Chrissy Teigen
'I will never stop talking about how horrible Donald Trump is. Even after he loses, I will set an alert to my phone to remind me to not stop.’
3/10 Nicki Minaj
On the war on drugs and US prison system: “What it has become is not a war on drugs. It has become slavery. Or something crazier. When I see how many people are in jail, I feel like, ‘Wait a minute. Our government is aware of these statistics and thinks it’s OK’ The sentences are inhumane.”
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for A+E Networks
4/10 Emily Ratajkowski
'I am not shamed or apologetic of what my body might represent to you. It’s the body I was given. I'm no less worthy of making political points about feminism or fighting for the reclaiming of female sexuality because of it.'
Andrew Toth/Getty Images
5/10 Jesse Williams
On racial equality: ‘Now what we've been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what's going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.’
On claiming a magazine photoshopped her: ‘Had a new shoot come out today and was shocked when I found my 19 year old hips and torso quite manipulated. These are the things that make women self conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have.’
7/10 Jennifer Lawrence
‘I’m over trying to find the "adorable" way to state my opinion and still be likable! F**k that. I don't think I've ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It's just heard.'
8/10 John Legend
On Black Lives Matter: 'We should not have to jump through hoops to prove black people shouldn’t be shot by police during routine traffic stops. So many people work so hard to find a reason why executing a human being during a traffic stop is ok. IT’S NOT OK.'
9/10 Amandla Stenberg
On cultural appropriation: 'What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?'
10/10 Maisie Williams
On feminism: “I [also] feel like we should stop calling feminists ‘feminists’ and just start calling people who aren’t feminist ‘sexist’ – and then everyone else is just human. You are either a normal person or a sexist. People get a label because they’re bad.'
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
In a way, I don’t blame them. After years struggling to get their voices heard, women in business now have the perfect excuse to have their say. With influential female women like Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington and Elizabeth Gilbert touting the benefits of “speaking your truth”, it’s hardly surprising female entrepreneurs are enthralled by the idea.
According to Oprah, speaking your truth is about expressing what we think and feel in an authentic, vulnerable and transparent way. Business websites are stuffed with articles on the topic.
But does being yourself mean that it’s ok to hurt others?
The author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, was recently applauded for speaking her truth when she announced that she had left her husband for her female best friend on her Facebook page. While I respect her right to do so, I couldn’t help wondering about the people who were hurt by that decision.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women speaking up for themselves. Research consistently shows that women are generally more reluctant than men to ask for what they want, particularly when it comes to work. The problem is that many female business owners seem to be confusing speaking your truth with being downright rude, and hurting themselves in the process. They’re so busy speaking their truth, they’re forgetting that they’re running a business which relies on reputation and word of mouth.
Just yesterday I got an email from a lady who said she was unsubscribing from my email list. While the rest of my content was “fantastic”, she said, she’d taken umbrage to a line in one of my marketing emails because she didn’t feel it applied to her. I checked out her website and she has a really interesting business – one I’d happily recommend to others if I hadn’t been on the receiving end of a snarky email from its owner.
Of course I’m not saying women shouldn’t speak their mind. But as the novelist Iris Murdoch put it so eloquently: “Civilisation is based on not saying what you think.” And when you’re in business, knowing when to stay quiet can be just as important as having your say.
Janet Murray is a journalist and PR coach. She is the author of 'Your press release is breaking my heart: a totally unconventional guide to selling your story in the media'Reuse content