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Published on November 19, 2019

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

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

1. Be Authentic

To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

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2. Listen

Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Become an Expert

Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

4. Lead with Story

From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

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If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

5. Lead by Example

It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

6. Catch People Doing Good

A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

7. Be Effusive with Praise

It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

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Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

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10. Understand Your Lane

If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

Final Thoughts

Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

More Tips About Making Influence

Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

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