What Have You Left Unsaid?




You leave a meeting believing all the key players are in agreement on end goals and next steps. Weeks later, something happens; a late or missed deliverable, or two people very clearly running in opposing directions. Now you have evidence that the perceived alignment was not as strong as you had assumed, and it is likely that someone left something unsaid.

Have you ever realized that person was you?

I have, and in coaching, I find that probing around what a client might have been holding back or leaving out of a conversation often leads to interesting and productive places.

Not every time something is running through your mind does it need to be voiced, but I find when we are holding back on something, that something can lead us to identify confusion. At Talentism, we define confusion as moments when your reality is not living up to your expectations, whether those expectations are explicit or implicit. If productively managed, identifying today’s confusion can avoid tomorrow’s bad business outcomes.

If voicing confusion can be productive and, left unexplored, the likelihood of failure is high, what’s behind our tendency to stay quiet? Surely, staving off a bad future outcome would be enough to invite dialogue when steeped in confusion, and if we were as rational as we’d like to believe we might be. But in reality, there is a competing layer of expectations that we’re trying to live up to.

Possibilities abound for what any individual might be feeling or thinking when swallowing their confusion, but the two that rise to the top are:

  • Not understanding something about a situation.

  • Not agreeing with a decision or path forward.

If things don’t make sense to me and I stay quiet instead of speaking up and asking for clarification, I might hold a belief that others expect me to always know the answer, to be sharp and quick. I’m smart and I can keep up. Therefore, I belong.

If I don’t agree with something and I don’t bring it up, perhaps I believe others expect me to be cooperative or collaborative, and to raise an issue would be counter to their definition of those qualities.

In either case, if the project fails, I realize that I still share in the blame.

It’s possible that the expectations we perceive in these scenarios are accurate, but oftentimes they’re not. I might think I’m picking up accurate signals and cues, but in truth, I’m making assumptions, and there is a cost to continuing to believe them. Keeping my confusion to myself might serve my short-term protection goals, but in doing so, I’m decreasing the likelihood of reaching my intentional goals and, ultimately, leaving untapped potential on the table.


  • Can you think of a situation when you kept quiet about your confusion, and in hindsight, had you spoken up, you would have avoided an undesirable outcome?

  • When you know you are leaving things unsaid, what are you assuming others are expecting of you that is leading to that behavior?

  • Sometimes confusion screams and sometimes it whispers—are there subtle cues that would help you identify in the moment that either you don’t understand or don’t agree with something?

  • If you have identified a conscious perception of someone’s expectation of you, check in with that person and ask so that you can test how true it might be.

  • If you find it uncomfortable to voice your confusion, try leading with a question. Some version of, “what am I missing?” could be a starting point.

  • You’ve discovered after the fact that you left something unsaid. This Sensemaker will show you step by step how you can get back to a place of alignment.


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