In my early days of working for the courts, I had one incident where I was speaking to a judge and questioned a particular process. It didn’t make sense to me and I felt that there was a more effective way to achieve a particular goal. I was abruptly shut down and made to feel small. I never questioned anything openly again.
That carried with me when I first started my freelance career. I let a lot of my clients call the shots. Even if I disagreed with their approach to creating or publishing content, I didn’t say a word because I was more concerned with keeping the relationship intact than rocking the boat.
After reading Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers & Customer Advocates, I learned that I suffered from something that is all too common in the business world. It’s called FOSU.
In Courageous Cultures, co-authors Karin Hurt and David Dye—the CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, respectively—coin the acronym FOSU, which stands for Fear of Speaking Up. In the book, Hurt and Dye further explain that FOSU is defined as “the reluctance, hesitation, or outright fear that prevents people from sharing solutions, problems, and ideas.”
Admittedly, a large portion of the book’s content is centered around how to create a business whereby employees and other company stakeholders feel comfortable enough to speak up when processes are broken or if they have a new and better way to get things done.
However, I contend that this same fear is also present in one-person businesses. Sometimes it is a result of a negative experience when you worked for someone else. Other times it is caused by a lack of confidence or a fear of losing revenue.
Whatever the underlying reason, FOSU can hurt relationships with clients, vendors, and everyone else we work with regularly, thereby inhibiting our success. That’s why I reached out to Hurt and Dye to gain their input on FOSU and solopreneurship. This is what they had to say.
FOSU and Solopreneurs
“I see many contractors bite their tongues and hold back ideas and feedback for fear of damaging the relationship or losing the work,” says Hurt, “which actually diminishes their effectiveness. As a contractor, you have a unique perspective of working with lots of clients and are exposed to all kinds of best practices. If you hold those back, you are not providing the value-add you could for your clients.”
When you are the sole person responsible for earning your business’s income, it’s easy to tip-toe around your clients. You don’t want to upset the relationship out of concern that they’ll choose another service provider. However, taking this approach can not only make you an anxious mess, but it could actually keep you from developing a win-win business relationship.
“Even if you tick off a client from time to time who is not receptive to your ideas, speaking up and adding value is definitely the long game that will get you more, sustained and better clients,” says Hurt. “We want to work with contractors who are experts— and bring vision and ideas to their work— not just sit back and be told what to do.”
Reinforcing Your Value as a Strategic Partner
Getting over your fear of sharing your ideas and feedback also sets the tone for the contractor-client relationship says Hurt, by telling them how you want to be treated. “If you accept being jerked around with cancelled appointments, missed deadlines, or being spoken to in a rude manner, you will get more of that,” she warns. “Speaking up is so important if you want to go from being treated like a vendor to a true strategic partner.”
Dye adds that “as an expert, when you raise issues your clients haven’t considered, ask questions that provoke them to look more critically at their own work or processes, you’ve already proven your value – especially when they can’t answer the question you’ve asked or address the issue you’ve raised. Closing business and doing the work is far easier when you’ve already established the wisdom and perspective you bring.”
How to Get Over FOSU
If you have FOSU, how can you get over this fear and create a more courageous—and successful—business? “One way to do this well is to focus on the relationship,” says Hurt. Talk to your clients in a way that shows that you value working with them. Here is a sample script that Hurt recommends for speaking with a client when a concern develops:
I really care about our relationship and the work we are doing together. I want this project to be fully successful. I’ve noticed that (share your concern here). What ideas do you have for how we might partner more effectively in this arena in the future?
Hurts further states that this type of approach also works with individuals and companies you rely on to help your business run smoothly, including vendors and suppliers.
“It’s also easy to let FOSU creep in when working with vendors because it’s human nature to want to be liked,” she says. “But if you don’t speak up and settle for less than you need, you’re not serving either of your businesses in the long run.”
Getting over FOSU isn’t always easy. I know that my palms were sweating the first time I approached an issue with my client. While I still get nervous sharing my thoughts and ideas, I also value myself and my business and am more focused on providing the best service possible. This means sharing my expertise – even if the client doesn’t agree.
In the end, creating a courageous culture isn’t just beneficial in companies that have employees. Being a courageous one-person business is important too. Especially if want to have honest, transparent relationships with your clients in which each of you wins.