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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Related to Speaking Up
- 12 Tactics to Negotiate Better and Not Be a Pushover
- 7 Ground Rules for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work
- How to Negotiate Skilfully to Get What You Want All the Time
- Conflict Management: How to Turn Any Conflicts into Opportunities
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.