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How to Speak Up at Work in Any Situation

Communication is key, especially in the workplace. When you’re having an issue, want to voice your concerns about something or simply want to talk to your boss, it’s an obvious choice to speak up. We live in a world where, as long as you’re respectable about it, you can usually say what is on your mind without repercussion. In the workplace, it’s a little scarier to speak up than say on your Twitter or Facebook, partially because you’re speaking to authority figures.

Instead of being scared or shy about speaking up at work, you should feel confident in yourself and your ability to talk to someone about any topic if you ever have to. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to speaking up at work that will answer all your questions. So the next time you feel the need to speak up, you will feel comfortable throughout the situation.

Why should I speak up at work?

There are a variety of situations in which you can and should speak up in the workplace. Let us be clear here: speaking up is not calling someone out. When you’re calling someone out, you are specifically targeting a person or an issue and trying to get negative attention on them. Speaking up, on the other hand, is when you are informing the appropriate figure in the work place of an issue or idea you feel needs to be addressed. Speaking up doesn’t have to be a negative thing; you could also be sharing your ideas for a current project or even talking during a staff meeting.

According to Ginger Clark, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, when you speak up at work, you are helping your workplace become better each and every day.

“A workplace functions better when everyone has a voice in its functioning. This is not to say everyone gets their way all the time, but they at least need to be heard,” Clark says. “Be realistic about the possibility of change, and try to present plans that allow for incremental change when sweeping change is unlikely. Be the solution person, not the complaining person.​”

So whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing you’re speaking up about, by contributing to the workplace you’re helping make it a better environment, one idea at a time.

What are the things I should speak up about?

Now that you know the reasoning behind speaking up, you may be wondering what situations deem it appropriate to do so. There are several situations in which voicing your thoughts could be necessary, including:

  • When policy is not being followed and management is not aware/handling it properly
  • When you have a great idea for a new project your colleagues are working on
  • When you feel there is discriminatory or harassing behavior in the workplace
  • When you don’t understand the task you are assigned and need clarification
  • When you don’t feel you are getting treated fairly for the work you are doing
  • When your colleagues need help on a task and you believe you can help
  • When there is a possible issue you believe you have a solution to
  • During a staff meeting in which you believe your ideas can be a positive contribution

This list definitely doesn’t cover everything that you can speak up about at work. There are so many other situations in which you may find yourself wanting to or needing to speak up; if that’s the case and you have a “feeling” you need to say something, do so! Trust your instincts. Usually they aren’t wrong. If they are, and the situation doesn’t turn out how you expected it to, take it as a learning experience so you know what to change for next time.

How do I speak up at work?

While going up to your boss and saying, “Hey, this isn’t working” may seem simple, it can be a lot harder to actually do. If you’re having troubles working up the courage to talk to them, there are two things you can do.

Clark advises to speak to any trusted coworkers or mentors to get their advice on the situation or even role-play how to have the conversation. It’s a lot easier to approach your boss when you feel you have someone behind you who understands the ideas or issues you have. Role-playing is also an easy way to prepare yourself because you’ll have a general idea of what you want to say and how to say it.

When you’re in conversation with your boss, if you’re still a little shy or scared about speaking up, Clark says to just own your fear. Tell your boss that you’ve been scared or nervous to bring it up or you simply don’t know how they’re going to react. This way it shows that you’re doing this from a good place.

Related: 8 Things You Should Never Do at Work

What if I’m scared of the consequences?

​Speaking up often comes with consequences. It’s a scary thought, but unfortunately that’s life. Clark says that the immediate consequences of speaking up are usually less important than the long term ones if you never speak up at all. Your best bet at avoiding major consequences, or at least not angering your boss, is to speak up in a respectable way.

“I think as long as the employee stays even and professional, offering solutions, and being grateful for the time and any adjustments made, it is difficult to retaliate—though certainly it happens,” Clark says.

So make sure to stay positive, use “I” statements and be respectable while bringing up whatever you want to say, and it probably will be a smoother conversation than just piling on.

Can something good come from speaking up?

The short answer: of course! While you may be worried about the negatives, there are also positives that can come from speaking up. Sometimes, what you are saying is not as important as how you are saying it.

“As long as you are solution focused, and an advocate for yourself and others, people tend to see you as a leader. They know you can be called on to do things that are hard to do (e.g., negotiate contracts, deal with difficult clients, etc.),” Clark says. “There is a way to be assertive, but still a great coworker who cares about her colleagues, her boss and her company.​”

By speaking up in a positive and constructive manner, you will come across as someone who wants to help make an impact on the company instead of just looking out for herself.

It may seem easy to list off all these reasons why and how you should speak up at work, but the thought of actually doing so might seem a lot harder. There really is no way to become a pro, other than practicing! Take all the above information into consideration and start small. You’ll eventually feel way more comfortable speaking up and will gladly use these situations to get ahead in your career.

Brianne is a first year Journalism major at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. She transferred to Ryerson from American University in D.C. where she was a feature writer for their Her Campus Chapter. In her spare time she enjoys hanging out with friends, shopping and seeing the latest theatrical production in town. Brie is currently a writer for a local magazine and hopes to continue her journalism career well into her future.
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