I know so many amazing professionals who often tell me that speaking up at work is a challenge. It’s not that they don’t have opinions—the certainly do! And it’s not because they don’t have the smarts—these folks are the best and the brightest. But they still have an incredibly difficult time expressing themselves in the workplace. So today’s post is all about finding your voice at work and overcoming those internal demons that have been keeping you quiet.
Before we get started though, let’s address those demons. What stifles your voice in the workplace?
Here are a few of the common answers:
- I feel intimated by others.
- I don’t feel respected.
- I’m afraid of rejection.
- I’m afraid of confrontation or “rocking the boat.”
- I want to blend in and not draw attention to myself.
- I’m afraid of looking stupid.
- No one will listen anyway.
Any of these sound familiar?
Now, we should also address why having a voice at work is important. Here are just a few of the reasons:
- You deserve it!
- Sharing your thoughts will show others you’re engaged.
- You’ll get noticed (in a positive way)
- You’ll earn more respect.
- You’ll contribute more value.
- You’ll be more involved (which makes work more stimulating)
- You’ll learn more.
I truly believe that voicing your opinions, objections, and questions is an important part of being a valuable employee. But it also has an enormous impact on the fulfillment you get from your work. Feeling stifled and unheard is frustrating, no matter how much you tell yourself you “don’t care.” You’re not a robot. You have a brain and valuable experience and knowledge to share. You weren’t hired to just go through the motions. You deserve a voice and, once you start using it, others will come to respect you more for it.
So, how exactly does one start to find their voice at work? Try the following:
There’s nothing worse than someone who speaks without first listening to what others are saying. If you’re not quite sure that you fully understand the situation, don’t jump right in. Listen, absorb and make sure that your contribution will be helpful and not distracting or off-topic.
Keep in mind that if you have an opinion on everything, eventually people will stop listening. When you have something important to say that you believe adds value, that’s the time to speak up. Don’t just talk because you feel like you should, or you don’t want to be left out or simply because you haven’t heard your own beautiful voice in a while.
Time and Place
There are appropriate times and places for speaking up just as there are inappropriate ones. Be aware of what’s going on around you and be receptive to the environment. If tensions are high, you may want to stay quiet for the time being. If you have a topic to discuss that may be uncomfortable or awkward, take note of the people in the room. You may want to have a private conversation instead. If you need to confront a delicate situation with someone who’s particularly stressed out, choose your timing wisely. You may want to wait until things slow down. You always want to find the best environment in which to be heard.
Tact and Diplomacy
Approach any business conversation with a professional tone and keep your language neutral and non-judgmental. When people feel attacked, they stop listening and go into “defensive mode”. Don’t be too vocal when your emotions are high; take time to gather yourself and then approach delicate situations with the appropriate level of caution. Be sensitive to the feelings of others and use all of your senses to gauge the environment. If you feel others shifting away from you, getting nervous or antsy, or simply not paying attention, tune into yourself and make adjustments as needed.
Basic social etiquette applies in the workplace. Don’t interrupt others, raise your voice or use confrontational language. While you want to demonstrate assertiveness, you need to balance it with respect. If done wrong, it may come off as aggressive, which can have an incredibly counterproductive impact on the conversation.
Back It Up
Look, it would be great if everyone just listened to you because you’re YOU and you deserve to be heard. But most people, especially in the workplace, want some proof that you know what you’re talking about. So, before you jump in with your opinions and brilliant insights, collect your supporting data. What makes you think this way? What do you know that perhaps they don’t? What facts brought you to these conclusions? Don’t just rely on your gut feeling. No one else trusts your gut the way you do.
Learn how to speak concisely. Long-winded, rambling monologues are easily tuned out. Give voice to your thoughts and then zip it. Let others reflect on it, question it, and mull it over. Your job isn’t to defend what you’ve said. Respond when needed but don’t expect that you’ll convince everyone to agree with you. That’s not what this is about. Having a voice is the important part. Whether or not it’s the final authority on the topic is immaterial.