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How to Speak Up at Work Without Being Offensive

How to Speak Up at Work Without Being Offensive

Having the ability and confidence to speak up at work is critical for several reasons. It’s important on a personal level because it can directly impact your career in either a positive or a negative way. Done correctly, it can have a very uplifting effect on your career and workplace happiness. Done in an inappropriate manner can have incredibly negative effects on your career, and also spread to those around you.

On a more macro level, the ability to speak up at work can be extremely productive and create great things for your immediate team and the organization as a whole. If you open your mouth at the wrong time or in the wrong place, all it’s going to do is create divides between your colleagues and negatively impact the work being done.

Let’s take a look at how to speak up at work without being offensive.

When and Where to Speak Up

As we mentioned, there are definitely times and places you should speak up at work; and there are also circumstances where you shouldn’t. Let’s look at some suggestions for when conditions are right for speaking up.

Situations

A general rule of thumb is if the situation involves you it’s a good idea to speak up. On the other hand, if it doesn’t involve you, that’s a good indicator to not worry about sharing your opinion.

Just today, my team and I had a meeting to review 4 different vendors that recently provided us with demo’s. We are looking for a tool to help us become more efficient as well as provide a better customer experience. We all offered our opinions regarding the products. This was a great situation for me to offer my thoughts on a tool we will all be using.

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Several weeks ago, I walked by 2 associates who work in the same department as I do. We don’t work together daily but I do interact with them from time to time. One was expressing frustration and displeasure of having to work with someone in another department. This would be a situation where my input would be both not appreciated and not important, because it has nothing to do with me. So I kept walking.

Reasons

The best way to decide whether to speak up is to ask yourself – will something positive or good happen if I decide to offer my opinion? If the answer is yes, then by all means, speak up. If you have a hard time figuring out how something positive happens when you open your mouth, make sure you pause and really think about if you should say anything.

Referencing my situation before, where my team members and I were weighing in with our opinions on the vendors. This is a good reason to speak up and share my thoughts. My opinion was wanted for the good of the team. It’s a good reason for me to say what I’m thinking.

Let’s think about another situation. Let’s say a coworker of mine is starting to gossip to me about another coworker. First of all, there’s not really a good reason for the coworker to be gossiping to me about someone else. It is certainly not a good reason for me to start chiming in as well. Nothing good or positive is likely to come out of me speaking up in this situation.

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The manner in which you speak up will make a difference too. If you share your opinion in a clear and positive way, typically good things will happen. This is true in most situations, from one-on-one with your boss or subordinate, to addressing a large group of people. Make sure you are prepared and communicate clearly.

On the other hand, if you mumble a lot or are unable to communicate in a clear manner, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. The people who are attempting to listen to you either won’t be able to hear you very well or understand you. This will only hurt your career and make the situation more muddied at work.

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How to Speak Up at Work without Being Offensive

1. Be Clear

This is key to speaking up without being offensive. Make your opinion known or ask for what you want in a clear and straight forward manner without being demeaning to the other person.

Don’t make your voice softer or raise your volume, keep it in your normal speaking voice. Don’t try to emotionally manipulate the other person, just state your point in a clear and concise manner.

2. Stay Cool and Collected

Sometimes when we are stating our opinions, the conversation can begin to get heated. Different opinions and ways of doing things can cause friction. You think something should be done a certain way and someone else doesn’t agree with you.

If you are passionate about the subject, the conversation might begin to turn to a more animated discussion. When this happens, take a deep breath and pause. Let yourself calm down at least a little bit. Continuing the discussion when you are upset will usually only lead to saying things you’ll later regret.

3. Be Prepared

We all tend to feel a lot more confident when we feel prepared. This is true at work as well, whether it’s having a meeting or asking for a raise.

If you want to ask for a raise, come prepared and you probably won’t get defensive or aggressive when challenged. If you come prepared, you can show your boss the reasons why you deserve a raise. Maybe you could point out the money you saved the company or even better, new business you’ve brought it.

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Come prepared and you’ll be ready to speak up at work without being offensive.

4. Use Good Body Language

When it’s time to be assertive and state what you want at work, make sure you are using positive body language. Keep your posture straight and use open body language. Look people in the eyes and and don’t clench your jaw or tighten your facial muscles. Smile from time to time. This will help you be assertive and clear.

When you use poor body language such as crossing your arms, frowning, talking in a loud and forceful manner, leaning in too much or pointing fingers, you will come across as aggressive and offensive.

5. Be Comfortable Saying No

Having the ability to say no will help you speak up at work without being offensive. Sometimes, what you see is a boss or manager who, for some reason, likes giving someone additional work simply because the other person allows it. As you might imagine, this can lead to resentment, anger, and eventually quitting and getting a new job. When things are busy, we all get extra work sometimes. If you are consistently getting more than your fair share, be comfortable saying no.

I recently was asked to take on an additional project. Okay, I’m a team player so I took the additional work on. A few weeks later, I was asked to take on another additional project. I said no, I simply don’t have the bandwidth and the project would suffer because I did not have the time to give it the attention it deserved. I said no and I did not get the project.

You can take a look at Leo Babauta’s advice on The Gentle Art of Saying No.

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6. Offer Constructive Criticism

It’s okay to offer constructive criticism if it is your place. Personally, I am open to receiving constructive criticism. Not everybody is. I feel that if you can tell me something in a positive manner about how to get better, I am all for it. I like for that conversation to be able to swing both ways.

If you want to help someone get better and you feel they are receptive to it, by all means offer constructive criticism. Just make sure it is constructive.

If you are one of those people that likes to offer criticism without the constructive component, chances are you are coming across as offensive.

7. Let Other People Speak

A final component to remember is to let other people speak as well. You are entitled to speak up and share your opinions. It’s important for you to be assertive and have your voice heard at work to get what you want and need.

That being said, in order to not be offensive, make sure you let other people speak. Yes, your opinion is important and you should ensure you can be heard. It’s also important to allow other people the opportunity to speak up at work as well. Remember, half of effective communication is listening.

Bottom Line

We’ve taken a look at how to speak up at work without being offensive. As you can see, it’s important to be assertive at work when needed to get your opinion heard and speak up for your wants and needs.

It’s very possible to state your position and get what you need at work and in your career in a manner that works well for you and everyone you work with. This can be done in an assertive manner without being offensive.

Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via On a more macro level, the ability to speak up at work can be extremely productive and create great things for your immediate team and the organization as a whole. If you open your mouth at the wrong time or in the wrong place, all it’s going to do is create divides between your colleagues and negatively impact the work being done.

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Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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