Never Mind the Bollocks, Start Saying What You Mean

Author: 
Jeremy Dale

“Be a voice, not an echo.” – Albert Einstein

The irony of punk music was that you didn’t need to be a musician — you just had to have something to say. The Sex Pistols certainly had something to say. Their lyrics were aggressive, straight-talking, and they didn’t pull any punches. They became the unofficial voice of the alienated British working-class teen-ager of the mid ’70s.

The Sex Pistols said it as they saw it. They got straight to the point; they said it plainly, and they didn’t just say it — they screamed it with all the volume that their lungs could produce. In their song “God Save the Queen,” it took all of seven words to reveal the whole message of the song: “God save the queen, the fascist regime.”

Juxtaposed against the generic love songs of the disco era, punk rock’s plainspoken message was nearly unfathomable in the musical realm: Nobody before had sung of the fascist monarchy, abortion, anarchy, apathy, Nazis and the Holocaust. Clearly, their lyrics offended many people and still do today.

So while I am not endorsing what they said or many of those sentiments, I am commending them hugely for how clearly they got the message across. Their lyrics were direct and forthright. They didn’t leave anything unsaid.

What punk rockers got right

This lesson is not about replicating the shock value of the punk rock movement, and offense clearly isn’t our goal. However, I believe corporate culture would be far better off if people integrated some of the punk movement’s most authentic, say-it-as-it-is traits more often. For instance, the most notable punk rockers exhibited the following:

  • They had an original point of view, and nobody was ever unclear about their stance on a subject.
  • They were willing to jump forward and express that point of view irrespective of how contrary it was to popular opinion.
  • They wasted no words and didn’t dillydally in getting to the point. They said it simply and clearly.
  • Their words drove change. They felt compelled to speak their mind because they weren’t prepared to put up with the status quo.

Lack of sincerity and biting your tongue may avoid short-term confrontation, but it usually just means a larger bust-up later on. Straight-talking saves time, emotional energy and brings clarity to people. Strong relationships are the bedrock of being able to express yourself honestly and bluntly. The skill — and it is a skill — of saying “it is as it is” is one of the things I improved at in recent years, and I so wish I had learned to be better at it earlier in life.

Such a simple thing

Having something to say and saying it are two entirely different things. The first is useless if you don’t do the second. Punk rockers weren’t afraid to say it like it is — and you shouldn’t be either.

In Lester Bangs’ essay about The Clash, and Joe Strummer in particular, he writes, “Their simple, straightforward honesty, their undogmatic insistence on the truth and why worry about stepping on people’s toes because if you were not straight with each other we’re never going to get anything accomplished any way...It seems like such a simple thing.”

Too often in the corporate world, we’re afraid to express ourselves, afraid to offend, afraid to say something wrong. We need to find our voice, and we need to say it as we see it, whatever the consequences may be, because if we don’t, “we’re never going to get anything accomplished any way!”

Encouragingly, what I see from the good communicators I know is that you can almost always express your honest point of view without offending — no matter how different your perspective may be, or even if that perspective is critical in nature. Good communicators can critique without being disparaging; disagree without being dismissive of other points of view; and argue without attacking. And they do that without toning things down.

Are you someone who confidently says what you feel loud and clear — or are you diluting it or toning it down for fear of offending? Don’t be afraid.  

Jeremy Dale has more than 20 years of sales and marketing experience, including leadership positions with Microsoft and Motorola. This column is excerpted from his book “The Punk Rock of Business” (Copyright 2018, published by Greenleaf Book Group Press). For more information, visit punkrockbusiness.com.