PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – Nowadays, some people are more fearful about saying what’s on their mind than one may think. 

Crucial Learning, a Provo-based company that specializes in communication, performance, and leadership training, released a study that says 9 out of 10 people “felt emotionally or physically unsafe” speaking their minds more than once within the last 18 months. 

The study surveyed 1,300 participants. It found that 74% of people surveyed mostly feared speaking out about political and social issues and 70% feared talking about issues related to COVID-19.

Instead of expressing concern or just having an opinion about something, study participants were found resorting to, “a host of unhealthy behaviors that are crippling constructive dialogue and driving viewpoints farther apart.”

The behaviors found in the study include:

  • Staying silent but feeling inauthentic (65%)
  • Avoiding people (47%)
  • Silently fuming and stewing (42%)
  • Ruminating about all the things they’d say if they had the courage (39%)
  • Faking agreement (19%)
  • Severing relationships (14%)

Participants shared real-life situations where they were afraid to say what they wanted to say regarding controversial issues. One participant said they were afraid to speak about their thoughts on COVID-19 vaccines to other people while another participant felt they would be shunned by their mother for following COVID guidelines when traveling and renting an Airbnb.

39% of participants said they felt unsafe either every day or every week, while only seven percent said they felt confident expressing their views in social situations.

Emily Gregory, one of the researchers on the study, said the results raised the question of what exactly is causing the fear of expressing oneself. 

“For decades, our research has shown that when we’re talking about issues that are emotionally and politically risky, we tend to see the other person in a more negative light,” fellow researcher Joseph Grenny said. 

“We tell ourselves stories about our situation that turn us into virtuous victims and the other party into evil villains,” Grenny said. Vilifying the other side in such a manner is what creates the emotional response that provokes a majority of the conflict, rather than the toxicity of the topic itself, according to Grenny.

Participants who told more extreme stories about their counterparts were three times more likely to be fearful to speak and 3.5 times more likely to lack the confidence to say what they wanted to say.

“We were stunned to see the size of the effect stories have on our confidence and ability to speak up,” Gregory reports. “But it makes sense. If I tell myself you are an ignorant, evil jerk, I’m more likely to think you’ll be vindictive—or worse—if I disagree with you.”

Researchers also asked participants who were less fearful and more confident, what skills they could identify that would help create a situation where a person can speak up with integrity. Some of the top skills mentioned included:

  • Making the situation safe (76%): Reassure the other party that they, along with their perspective, are respected along with pointing out shared values.
  • Get curious (72%): Rather than battling out to see who is right, make an attempt to understand the worldview of the other person. Ask questions and show interest.
  • Start with facts, not judgments or opinions (68%): Lay out the facts in the other person’s perspective. Use specific and observable descriptions.
  • Don’t focus on convincing (48%): Don’t make changing the other person’s mind be the main goal. It’s better to encourage the sharing of ideas and listening before responding.
  • Be skeptical of your own point of view (42%): It’s best to come in humble and confident for a conversation to really be fruitful. It helps to remember that no one person has the monopoly on truth and new information may change any perspective.
  • Own your right to have your opinion (11%): Validate yourself rather than depend on others to validate your right to an opinion.