woman leaders speak up at work
Leadership

Speak up at work: you have 4 options for communicating more effectively when you feel uncomfortable

Did you ever hear something at work that really didn’t sit well with you, but you didn’t speak up for some reason? Maybe you wondered if you misunderstood, or you thought perhaps you didn’t have all the information to validate your initial judgment. Or maybe by the time you’d organized your thoughts on it, the moment had passed, and it would have been awkward to speak up at that point.

How do you speak up at work when it feels uncomfortable, or when you’re an introvert? How do you speak up if you know full well you have a minority opinion? How do you speak up at work when you had initially let the moment pass?

This is not an issue of putting on a Superhero cape, summoning courage despite discomfort, and bravely stepping into the spotlight to say what needs to be said, despite all the odds against you.

I mean… it might be. Go ahead and speak the truth, even if your voice shakes, as Maggie Kuhn advised.

That is definitely ONE of your options.

There are different ways to speak up at work, and you can proactively choose which strategy to use at any opportunity.

Part of strategic leadership is knowing the options available to you at your disposal. The options for how you can speak up at work are more numerous and varied than you might think. Despite how it might feel in the moment, there is rarely a situation that represents a “shut door” that you can’t just open up again.

Let’s review different ways to speak up at work.

  1. Use active listening in the moment. Strategy: Active listening techniques can effectively frame your comment within the context of what others are saying or doing. It’s the best way to take a comment that might be perceived as off-base or challenging, and integrate it with relevance.
  2. Have mini-orientation sessions with others. Strategy: introduce your questions, concerns and ideas to other individuals prior to big meetings or decision events. Plant the seeds of your perspective with other stakeholders beforehand.
  3. Side-bars. Strategy: at breaks, during lunch, offline, or in other low-key opportunities, pull relevant people aside and share your perspective.
  4. Acknowledge without commitment in the moment. Strategy: Often, you don’t have to have 100% of the answer on the spot. Where possible, simply acknowledge that you understand and appreciate the issue, but that you will have to think about it and circle back. Then, do it.

Speak up, but don’t diminish your contribution.

When you want to speak up at work but it feels like a challenge, you may have a tendency to add qualifiers to what you are saying.

Don’t do that. It will diminish the desired impact of your comment, even if you’re not trying to make a power play and the desired impact is simply to be heard and understood.

These are the ways people may add qualifiers. Try to avoid them if you can:

  • “I might be wrong about this, but…” or “I’m not the expert here, but…”
  • Sorry to do this, but…”
  • “I’m just wondering if…” or “I’m actually thinking that…” or “I was only considering whether…”

It can be hard to drop those phrases if they are a crutch in uncomfortable situations. The best way to start to combat them is through the written word. Drop this language from emails first. Delete, delete, delete! Then you will be more aware of it, and you can start to condition yourself out of it when you want to verbally speak up at work more.

Instead of these crutch qualifiers, use the strategies listed above. Active listening, mini-orientations, side bars, and acknowledgement with buying time are all ways that you can speak up, engage, and participate as an alternative to the Superhero cape.

But know you have the Superhero cape at your disposal anytime you’re ready.

be a superhero when you speak up at work

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