Career Advice

6 Steps To Find Your Voice In The Workplace

There’s good news and bad news in the workplace of 2015. The good news is that there has never been a better time to be a work professional than right now. The bad news is that there is still entirely too much suffering in silence going on. Too much leading by intimidation and too much fear caused by bullying.

The fix? Speaking Up. Silence is the enemy.

In my work as a trainer all over the world, I see that the number one challenge staff face is to find their voices to speak up to their managers and colleagues. A close second (in challenges, that is) is that too many undervalue their worth. They say, “I can’t speak up. I’m afraid of losing my job.” I say, “If you keep staying silent, I’m afraid you are going to lose you.”

Here’s the thing. If you speak your mind respectfully, directly, and with specific details, you not only will not lose your job, you will mostly likely be setting the stage for a promotion, not to mention improved self-confidence, self-esteem, self-respect and the respect of others.

What are we staying quiet about? Lots of things…

  • Voicing a concern about a difficult manager or co-worker
  • Saying what we need to do our work better
  • Expressing a differing opinion
  • Negotiating salary during the interview process (Only 5% of women will negotiate)
  • Asking for a raise and/or promotion
  • Confronting a bully
  • Reporting the toxic behaviors of bullies
  • Discussing a brewing problem
  • Talking about the need for training
  • Justifying a promotion
  • Asking for time off

True Story
I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” Angela’s executive of three years was moody and often abusive. He yelled, used profanity, and publicly humiliated Angela and other staff. He ruled with fear and intimation and most everyone was frightened to say a word. The stress level was off the charts because it was getting worse.

One day the executive pushed Angela too far and she snapped. She followed him into his office and closed the door. She told him that he was chasing good people away in droves and that the disrespect was intolerable. She told him specifically what he said and did that was offensive and that it needed to stop “right now.” Angela turned around, left the room, and went back to her desk. She was shaking but had zero regrets.

In a few minutes her boss came out of his office with tears in his eyes and said, “I am so sorry. You are absolutely right. I had no idea my behavior was so bad. It won’t happen again.” It didn’t. The executive apologized to the rest of the team. The kicker? Angela has now been with her executive for 26 years.

We have heard stories similar to Angela’s many times. Some assistants find it difficult to believe that a bully can be unaware but it is true. Standing up and speaking out directly and in detail is a strategy that is effective and reduces tremendous angst in the office.

How Do You Speak Up? Here’s the 6-Step Plan.

  1. Practice saying the words out loud. The more you say them out loud, the easier it will be to say them. Many people will say that they don’t speak up because they will cry. Practicing saying the words will minimize the chance of crying. The main problem with tears is that they diminish your message.
  2. Pick your “battle” and choose your moment. Ask for time alone with the person. No public humiliation. What you need to say is between the two of you. There is great power in speaking to the elephants in the room by asking the questions, “Can we talk?” or “I can see something is bothering you. What can I do to help?”
  3. Stay calm, clear, and direct. Be specific and factual in your examples. Say, “It made me feel X when Y happened yesterday and Z happened last week.”
  4. Allow the other person to save face. Say, “I know that you might not know how this impacted me so I felt it was important for me to tell you.” Speak only for yourself and not for others.
  5. Prepare something in writing to clarify what you are saying. Putting these ideas on paper communicates the seriousness of the issues.
  6. Stop Talking. Once you speak your mind, be quiet and wait. Tolerate the awkward silence until the response comes. Even if the person does not come around all the way, your relationship is forever changed. You are now known as a person who will not stay quiet when there is a problem and that is a very good thing.

Awesome things happen when you find your voice to speak up about the things that matter. Most of all, you matter. I am rooting you on.