Do You Hold Out on SPEAKING UP at Work?

Figuring out when to speak up in the workplace can be tricky: maybe you were asked about something controversial and were afraid to speak about it or maybe someone wanted constructive criticism and you chose to keep to yourself instead. Do you know what you would do in situations like these? People usually don’t speak up because of fear of risk and specifically, fear of offending those above them. Employees who are afraid to speak up and communicate ideas at work may miss out on amazing opportunities, because what they don’t realize is that these very ideas could offer valuable knowledge and experience to employers. Whether you’re naturally introverted or outspoken, we can all relate to times we’ve wanted to voice our opinion but have bitten our tongues instead.


In a study by management researchers Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich, 70 percent of people said they hesitated to speak up about problems at work or suggest possible improvements to their firms because they feared repercussions.


Simply saying “my doors are always open” can no longer be enough to open up the lines of communication in the workplace. In fact, the best environments for speaking up are those where risk-taking is advocated and visibly rewarded.

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and Penn State professor James Detert, the “up” in the actual saying “speaking up” comes from the term upward voice: communications directed at someone higher in the hierarchy of an organization with the perceived power or authority to take action on the problem or suggestion.


It also turns out that there are two factors that lead people to feel either more or less safe about speaking up: individual differences and contextual factors. Personality differences can include varied levels of extroversion and communication skills. Contextual factors include organizational factors outside of the individual that provide them with cues about how voicing opinions will be received.


To get the best results, employers should explicitly ask for employee feedback and create transparent follow-up methods for employees. You may already have these avenues for feedback in place at your current employer and just don’t realize it! When you decide to voice your opinion but don’t know where to go, ask yourself these questions first:


Does your employer have a blog or other platform where you can share ideas?

Does your employer encourage an ongoing dialogue between employees for feedback?

Is there anything on a company intranet where you can voice your opinion?

Does your employer utilize any employee feedback tools?

Does your employer measure employee opinion via feedback surveys?


Regardless of how you choose to communicate and share your opinions, it doesn’t mean you have to immediately jump up and speak out amongst the crowd. Instead, there are several other ways to “speak up” and still get your point across. Here are some tips for communicating and getting your voice heard in the office without ruffling any feathers in the process:

  • Give yourself time to think carefully about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it
  • Express yourself in a positive manner – it’s all about your approach and delivery
  • Be mindful of your body language
  • Truly engage yourself in listening to others
  • Keep your emotions in check at all times
  • Do your homework so you may have a full understanding before you speak up about a certain issue or topic
  • Come prepared with solutions – the better prepared you are, the better feedback you will receive
  • Be assertive, but not rude, and always give respect to others
  • Respect organizational structures and roles and do not use them in undermining ways
  • Value everyone’s background and experience and do not discredit another’s competence
  • Give credit for good work that is being done, instead of blaming others
  • Be supportive, even when mistakes are made, to help figure out how to do things differently in the future
  • Speak in terms of “we” rather than “me and you”
  • Focus on a shared, common purpose in your organization and do not get sidetracked by differences in the details

Views: 264

Comment by Craig Silverman on November 5, 2010 at 11:56am
Good solid post here with info many could take a lesson from.
Comment by SkillStorm on November 5, 2010 at 12:01pm
@Craig thanks for the positive feedback! It's a shame that so many employees fear speaking up. We hope some of these tips may help build up a little more comfort and confidence among workers in voicing their opinions - it really can be so beneficial on both the employer and employee front!
Comment by Sandra McCartt on November 5, 2010 at 12:58pm
Great list of things to consider. Speak Truth to Power but do so intelligently without rancour or emotion.
Comment by SkillStorm on November 5, 2010 at 1:01pm
@Sandra - agreed! Thanks for the feedback.. Happy Friday!
Comment by Mark Bregman on November 5, 2010 at 1:27pm
Good ideas. I posted a companion piece to this yesterday: Top 10 Things Your Managers Aren't Telling You: http://www.recruitingblogs.com/profiles/blogs/top-10-things-your-ma...
Comment by SkillStorm on November 5, 2010 at 1:34pm
@Mark - Wow your piece aligns very closely to our topic in this post! Particularly enjoyed this one: "That they remember every negative thing you say, and every positive thing - It takes 5-10 positives to counter every negative." - Interesting and eye opening stuff!
Comment by Guy Farmer on November 5, 2010 at 4:47pm
Great tips. Organizations benefit greatly when they help their people communicate more effectively. It's especially valuable for leaders to practice effective communication skills like listening and open-ended questions in order to build trust and better work relationships with their employees. We can create kinder and more respectful workplaces simply by being aware of how we ourselves communicate.
Comment by Maureen Sharib on November 7, 2010 at 7:52am
I remember being abt 16 and out on a date w/ a young man and his older sister. His sister was on a date too so I guess it was a "double date". It was an aferrnoon and I think we were going to a museum.

My date was driving. Her date was from out of town and I think he was a college boyfriend - the two of them visiting home for the weekend (or holiday, or somethin').

He didn't know his way.

Long story short. She, and me and my boyfriend the lost voyager were driving around in a city all three of us were born in.

I knew she knew the way. I just knew it.

She said nothing.

Me, stupid and naive as I was, spoke up and directed my date out of wherever we were.

I didn't make any friends that day. In fact, I remember my date chewing me out for being so "bossy".

I didn't think I was being bossy.

I remember her silence in the back seat.

I remember her not adding anything when support was needed.

Maybe, just maybe she didn't know the way.

But I don't think so.
Comment by SkillStorm on November 8, 2010 at 10:05am
@Guy - We couldn't agree more with you! Employers miss out on great opportunities and ideas when they don't encourage their own employees to openly communicate their thoughts and opinions.
@Maureen - Very interesting story. Why is one seen as "bossy" simply for speaking up and helping?! Glad you spoke up over the silence in that scenario!
Comment by Ian White on November 8, 2010 at 10:23am
It's always good to bring this to attention. The unfortunate part of employees not speaking up is the fact that its a nerve-wracking experience, it could lead to many dissatisfactions down the road if done incorrectly. The tips that you have given are excellent! By speaking up in the workplace we can reduce the occurrence of Group Think which in itself could be a whole different article.

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