Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Manner

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

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

10 Best Interview Questions (With Great Answer Examples) 7 Keys to Effective Listening How to Use the Law of Reciprocity for Effective Persuasion 7 Ways Self-Disclosure Helps You Connect Deeper with Others How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Trending in Communication

1 How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often 2 How to Fight Your Irrational Fears And Stay Strong 3 Feeling Frustrated in Life? 8 Ways to Get Back on Track 4 8 Ways to Change Your Self-Sabotaging Behaviors 5 Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you realize you aren’t really happy about this, wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while but I learned the art of saying no. Saying ‘no’ meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. I started to manage my time more around my own needs and interests. When that happened, I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying ‘no,’ you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey considered one of the most successful women in the world confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything. It was only when she realized that after years of struggling with saying no, I finally got to this question: “What do I want?”

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Advertising

Warren Buffett views no as essential to his success. He said,

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made ‘no’ a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say ‘no.’

From an early age, we are conditioned to say ‘yes.’ We said yes probably hundreds of time in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work. We said yes get a promotion. We said yes to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because it feels better to help someone. We say yes because it can seem like the right thing to do. We say yes because we think that is key to success. And we say yes because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist like the boss.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we feel guilty we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message no matter where we turn is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

Advertising

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Deciding to add the word ‘no’ to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say ‘no’ but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of ‘no’ that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t come easily for many people.

The 3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time especially you haven’t done it much in the past will feel awkward.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it, who else knows about all of the demands on your time? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying ‘No’ Means Saying ‘Yes’ to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word ‘no’ into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying ‘no’ is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because FOMO even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Advertising

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better.

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say ‘No’

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say ‘yes’ because we worry about how others will respond or the consequences of saying no or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose respect from others. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying ‘no’ can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way. You might disappoint someone initially but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to.

4. When the Request Comes In, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time, or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say ‘no.’ There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your ‘No’ with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

A clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

Advertising

6. Consider How to Use a Modified ‘No’

If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” giving you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

Final Thoughts

Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

Use the request as a fresh request to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate the demand as if it were coming from somewhere else.

Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project but not by working all weekend. Or, tell someone in your family you can’t loan them money again because they never paid you back the last time. You’ll find yourself much happier.

More Self-Care Tips

Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

Read Next