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: 306

Comment by SkillStorm on November 8, 2010 at 12:28pm
@Ian - Wow this is so interesting! Going to look some more into Group Think... thanks for the link!
Comment by Ian White on November 8, 2010 at 5:20pm
@SkillStorm I have been thinking about writing a piece on Group Think. Would you be interested, and do you think the community would be interesting in reading it if I did?

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