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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.

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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.

More by this author

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 July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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