Workplace cultures often feature certain contradictory personality types: people who tend to dominate conversations and people who tend to remain quieter. Sometimes, these differences are based on hierarchy; if you’re lower on the ladder, you might be less inclined to offer input. Sometimes, they can be rooted in gender; women can be more hesitant than men to speak up in some situations. It can also be factors like age, level of expertise, or personality and communication style that dictate how quiet or loud you are.
No matter the cause, feeling uncomfortable speaking up at work can impact your performance, your career mobility and your overall sense of well-being while you’re there. It can manifest physically in blushing, shaking or a trembling voice, for example, which can weaken your confidence and affect the way your colleagues perceive you. It can, over time, make you feel like your ideas are lacking and not worth sharing, which will stifle both your spirit and your career.
The unfortunate result of the still-prevalent “squeaky wheel gets the grease” paradigm is that the quieter wheels hold back their valuable ideas, because they fear recrimination or dismissal. Organizations, therefore, lose out on the benefits of creativity and a marketplace of ideas — ideas that could translate to real business value.
So, how do we break that cycle? How do we help people find their voices in the workplace? It doesn’t entail simply mastering one skill; it’s actually a series of five skills that we must consistently practice:
1. Knowing When to Speak up and When to Listen
Finding your voice, ironically, can be about knowing when to be quiet. Certain personality types might be more inclined to speak up than others, but anyone can benefit from recognizing the importance of listening before you speak. You should understand what your role is regarding the objective in a meeting or conversation — are you there to offer opinions and make decisions or simply to digest information?
Mastering this skill can be difficult, but it is about gathering all the information you might need to form a stance, allowing others the space they might need to speak and determining the right time to jump in so your voice is most impactful.
2. Being Assertive and Confident
Confidence comes from preparation and a belief in the value of your ideas and words. It can be easy to think that you might offend someone, or seem stupid, by offering an opinion that goes against the flow. However, all ideas are valuable and deserve consideration.
Build your confidence by reaching out to colleagues and leaders in your organization to ask them for feedback. In this way, you can learn and prepare yourself not only to speak up more but to take advantage of opportunities to be visible, learn and advance. So, even if it means waiting to speak until you can gather enough information to feel confident in your opinion, it can often be the best way to make yourself heard.
3. Effectively Expressing Yourself and Being Influential
Influence isn’t necessarily about you; it’s about enabling others to trust you and what you say. It can mean being vulnerable and letting people know that you are a flawed human who makes mistakes but learns from them and who cares about connecting with others. Trust takes time to build, but you can’t influence anyone or anything without it.
The way you convey a point — and, further, influence behaviors — is by resonating with your audience. Find a way to connect with them personally by using authentic examples that show you are a person with experiences they can relate to.
4. Collaborating Successfully
Your voice is important, but it’s not the only important voice in the room. Collaboration is crucial to most successful workplaces; giving everyone space to express ideas and giving those ideas due consideration is how interesting things happen. In a work environment, the key is to find a balance between advocating for yourself and giving everyone else the same space to express themselves.
5. Standing Up for Your Worth and Value
This one may seem simple, but it can be one of the most difficult skills to master. Your value as a person and an employee is inherent, but some workplace structures make it challenging for you to realize it. When it comes to standing up for your worth and your value, don’t be afraid to be loud.
Finding your voice becomes easier the more you practice these skills. Not only does it become second nature for you to feel your value and communicate your ideas, but the people around you begin to see you as someone worth listening to. Remember that even the most skilled communicators feel nervous and unprepared sometimes, and the greatest ideas don’t just come from the C-suite.
Finding your voice doesn’t mean being perfectly poised and eloquent every time, and it doesn’t mean all your ideas have to be home runs before you can express them. It simply means taking the time to understand what you’re saying, the impact it can have and that what you say is worth being heard.