We’ve all been there. You want to pitch an idea or offer a difference-making piece of constructive criticism to your team. But the second you get ready to chime in, you… stay quiet.
You’re not alone. Speaking up in general, let alone at work, is tricky for most, if not all, of us. According to research released by Fierce Conversations and Quantum Workplace, about half of employees don’t regularly speak their minds at work — whether it’s to their colleagues or managers.
Finding your voice: how do I speak up?
It makes sense that so many people decide not to voice their opinions in a professional setting.
Maybe they’re worried it could put their reputation, or even worse, their job at risk. Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves they don’t have any insights that are worth sharing. Or, maybe they believe that speaking up won’t matter — their company won’t do anything with that information anyway.
Know this: even if it rocks the boat, using your voice in the workplace is important.
Beyond the fact that you have knowledge, ideas, and unique perspectives that are worthy of consideration, flying under the radar ultimately undermines everything you’d bring to the table.
When you repeatedly hold your tongue, your team is left to make assumptions about your thoughts and values, never knowing how you actually feel.
In addition, if you’re eager to create more influence, foster a stronger reputation, and make a difference on your team, speaking up (appropriately, of course) is a surefire way to get noticed — in a good way. In a conversation with various managers, Glassdoor found that both “open dialogue” and “honesty” were traits that help employees get promoted.
How to decide when to speak up: 4 crucial considerations
Speaking up matters, but that doesn’t mean that every single scenario warrants your two cents. We all know (and are probably frustrated by) those colleagues who seem to have something to say about everything — whether it’s a team-wide project or the brand of sweetener in the break room.
How can you know when it’s an appropriate time for you to voice your own opinions and when you’re better off biting your tongue? Here are four important considerations to make.
1. Your role
Sharing feedback about an upcoming project in a team meeting is one thing. But, overhearing a conversation about an issue in another department and popping in with your own opinions is unnecessary — and will ultimately make you seem like a meddler.
Before you open your mouth, think about whether this matter directly pertains to you. If that answer is yes, then you’re entitled to an opinion. If not? You’re inserting yourself into business that isn’t relevant to you.
2. Your audience
Maybe you think that you don’t have a problem speaking up at work. However, it’s common to confuse venting or complaining with productively voicing your opinions.
Speaking up only counts if you do it in front of the right audience who can actually implement your feedback or remedy the issue.
Complaining to your co-worker about your lack of challenging assignments might feel like you’re making your opinions known, but a better strategy would be to schedule a one-on-one with your manager where you can discuss your current workload and your career goals. It might be more intimidating to proactively reach our to your manager and present your feedback but that’s what counts as productively speaking up at work.
3. The time and place
You’ve heard that timing is everything, and that definitely applies when it comes to speaking up.
For example, is it urgent, or is it better handled after you invest some more thought and strategy? Is your suggestion something that might embarrass a co-worker in a group setting? It’s better to handle that privately. Is it something that everybody should know? Then meeting one-on-one isn’t as efficient or effective.
Carefully considering when and where you chime in can make all the difference in how your thoughts are received.
4. The consequences
If you’re still stuck in a mental wrestling match about whether to speak up, it may help to think through the consequences of each option. What’s the potential fallout?
If you don’t say something, will your team end up launching a project with a huge error? That’s worth pointing out sooner rather than later.
It might seem intimidating to think through worst-case scenarios like this. However, this serves as an informal pros and cons list that will help you weigh your options and decide which route is best for your situation.
3 tips for speaking up and making your voice heard
Working through the above considerations will help you decide whether or not it’s appropriate to chime in with your thoughts.
But, what about the actual process of making your opinions known? Some even wonder if there’s a speak up policy of sorts at their company. Regardless of official “rules” (and there seldom are any), if and when you decide to speak up requires common sense and savvy. How do you do so in a way that’s polite, professional, and not pushy?
1. Choose your medium
Smaller matters — such as pointing out a typo or suggesting who should cater your next team lunch — are easily handled digitally. But, larger topics — like a conflict with a co-worker or a discussion about your career advancement — are better left to in-person talks or video chats if necessary.
Why does this matter? Two words: nonverbal cues. You miss out on those with written communication, which isn’t such a big deal if the topic at hand is fairly inconsequential but really matters when it comes to serious topics.
2. Know your “why”
You should always do the necessary homework before voicing your own opinions. That’s table stakes. But there are also a few core things that you should be aware of:
- What you’re sharing
- Why it matters
- What result you’re aiming for
Perhaps your team is in agreement that you should host your next B2B webinar on a Thursday morning. But, after looking at your engagement metrics, you want to suggest Wednesday afternoon as a better event time.
Here are two different ways you could speak up:
Option #1: “Actually, I think it’d be better to host that webinar on a Wednesday afternoon instead.”
Option #2: “I’d suggest hosting that webinar on a Wednesday afternoon instead. I took a look at our engagement metrics, and that appears to be a better time for the majority of our users. I think we’ll see improved live engagement if we adjust the event time.”
The second option is far more compelling, because it focuses on the why. It backs up your statement and draws a line to the results it would achieve for everybody.
3. Don’t get defensive
It’s human nature — when we’re presented with alternative opinions, we question them. This isn’t a personal attack by your colleagues or your manager. Instead, it’s their attempt to get more clarity on your thought process and your suggestion.
So, don’t get defensive in the face of thoughtful questions. Answer them and engage in a constructive conversation about the idea that you put forward. If you don’t have the answer right now, respond with something like, “I don’t have an answer for that at this moment, but let me dig into it and follow up with you.”
✅Tip: If you’re not quite ready to put your own ideas out there, asking questions in a meeting is a great way to get more comfortable with speaking up in a way that doesn’t feel quite as assertive.
You have a voice, use it
Speaking up at work seems simple in concept, but it can actually be deceptively complicated. Should you? Shouldn’t you? Will you tarnish your reputation? Make someone upset? Get fired?!
Voicing your thoughts and opinions can be nerve-wracking, and it’s easy to convince yourself that what you say needs to be perfect to be valuable. But, take a deep breath and remind yourself that getting your ideas out there is incredibly worth it — for you, for your manager, and for your organization as a whole.
According to research from Randstad US, nearly all of the bosses they surveyed stated that they value the thoughts and ideas of their employees. Even more impressive? A whopping 73% of them believe their companies would be more successful if they listened to more employee feedback.
So, you have everybody else’s vote of confidence that your ideas are worth hearing — now it’s up to you to actually share them.
Learn how Confluence supports speaking up at work by clicking the link below.
Kat is a freelance writer focused mainly on careers and self-development. As someone who has a knack for piling her own plate way too full, she’s obsessed with finding easy ways to be more productive and less stressed.