How to speak up at work

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Since I started working at the office, there was one barrier that I faced for a long time – being able to speak up. Raised on the belief that it is good to be shy, I struggled for a long time to figure out how I could connect, communicate or even be considered to take more leadership roles. Finally, it occured to me – to be considered for any leadership role, you have to be seen and heard. While I am an introvert at heart, that’s something that prevented me from advancing in my career.

Only recently the world seemed to notice the importance and value of introverts, but most organizational practices and culture continue promoting extroverts. All women that had influence and leadership positions in the place where I work are not afraid to speak up if they disagree with something or if they want to talk about their own value. I often admired them from a distance, until I realized 2 things:

1. I can be like them. It is not about their upbringing, they also have their own insecurities but they just show them in a different way (by talking too much)

2. While they are great at pushing themselves forward sometimes their ability to speak up prevents them from listening and hearing others. Or even pausing to gather feedback from their team, which is only beneficial to organization and the project. They also lack empathy and do not read the room – not noticing body language that sends messages about how their leadership, clients or team members are receiving the message.

I believe many women struggle with this issue – on one side, we have great ideas that we feel are often not heard unless we are asked and provided the right environment to provide input. On the other hand, we do not want to come across as aggressive. So how to speak up at work while also hitting all the right ‘notes’?

  • Focus on the message – know and be crystal clear about your vision and your why, why your message needs to be heard
  • Mention the benefits and the positive change your idea will bring to clients, stakeholders, organization. Mention how it ties with organizational priorities or strategies
  • Detach yourself from your idea. That’s one of the differences in standard communication between most men and women – because men detach themselves from their ideas, they are more likely to speak up but then, if their idea is rejected, they do not take it personally. Because guess what – they will have another idea tomorrow
  • Focus on how you deliver your idea. Focus on the tone of your voice, the words you select to define it. If you use more casual tone, people are more likely to respond in a positive way. If you sound too formal, some people may be against your idea because it may sound like a lot of work or something not exciting. Most of the time when new ideas are rejected, it is not about the idea but about how it was presented and positioned
  • Know what you are talking about. If you remember a specific number/statistic, name of the legislation or anything you can use as an evidence, you will come across as the expert and your idea will immediately sound better. For example, instead of saying “many people will like our new approach”, say something like “currently 70 percent of our users provide negative feedback about service A. Studies show that fixing one common problem may result in better financial return and significant increase of client satisfaction rates. Here is how we can do it…
  • When delivering an idea, focus on your audience – where are they looking, how are they seating? Are they leaning forward to learn more or are they checking emails on their phones? Adjust your tone and volume accordingly
  • Focus on the speed and volume – if you speak too fast or too slow, too loud or too quiet it may distract your audience and they may be disagreeing with you just because they were not sure what you were proposing
  • Be specific but not too specific. If you are too broad you may lose your audience’s focus and if you are too specific right away, they may disagree with the specific method or details
  • Believe in the importance of your voice. Do not assume that others have the same level of knowledge, skills and experience and your idea is a common sense. Your skills and background are unique, embrace it!

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