The Importance of Speaking Up

Your organization needs you to speak up. If you don’t speak up, your organization might miss out on opportunities or end up in breakdowns it could have avoided. In the most serious cases, like safety issues or cases of unethical behavior, your organization needs you to speak up to help avoid disaster. 

Research has shown that speaking up can also have personal benefits. You become seen as someone who cares about your job and cares about making a contribution. You increase your ability to influence and improve your credibility. Speaking up also leads to you feeling more engaged in your work, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and better performance.

Despite these benefits–both personal and organizational–people still don’t speak up for a host of reasons. They worry about retribution from their superiors or coworkers, or they worry that speaking up will result in them getting demoted or fired. People also feel unsure about how to approach the situation or feel uncomfortable speaking up in a group setting. 

Facing these fears and taking on these kinds of uncomfortable conversations is key to becoming a leader in your organization and contributing to its success, and there are moves you can make so that when you do speak up, it creates a positive impact–for you, your colleagues, and your organization. 

3 Keys to Speaking Up

Key #1: Turn Up Your Listening 

It might seem counter-intuitive, but the first key to speaking up is turning up your listening– what we call Listening Generously. If you want to speak up and have a positive impact on both your superiors and coworkers, the first and most critical step is to make sure that you are actually hearing and appreciating their perspectives. When you feel compelled to speak up, it’s common to quickly jump over what everyone else is saying and try to get them to understand what you have to offer, especially if you feel like they’re not seeing what you’re seeing. However, instead of trying to speak over everyone else and resisting or ignoring their point of view, it’s far more effective to take the time to make sure the other people involved feel like you’ve truly listened to their perspective. One of the ways you can do this is by replicating what you heard–repeat back to them what you think you heard and get confirmation from them that you heard them correctly. Once they feel heard, it’ll be much easier for them to listen to you, and they’ll be more open to seeing your perspective. In fact, this is one of the operating principles of Listening Generously: If you’re not being heard, there’s something you’re not hearing. 

On the other hand, if you skip this step, you reduce your odds of being able to influence them, and you increase the chances of creating a negative impact, which can sometimes lead to the one of the things people fear about speaking up–retribution. 

Key #2: Communicate Commitment

Another key to speaking up successfully is to communicate your commitment to your team and your organization. When the other people involved know that you share their commitment to the success of the team and the organization, it makes it a lot easier for them to hear what you have to say. It creates a platform for a more powerful conversation, and once again, reduces the likelihood that what you have to say will have a negative impact on them. Explain where you are coming from, what you believe the opportunities are, and how it is aligned with the organization’s vision. Listen and explore to find how you can forward your mutual commitment instead of getting fixed in your own solution or perspective. 

Key #3: Be Persistent

As challenging as it is to speak up, it’s easy to feel like you’re off the hook (it’s not your responsibility anymore) once you’ve said what you needed to say, but if you’re really committed to making a difference, persistence is essential, especially if you encounter resistance at first. It’s easy to give up in the face of initial resistance, but if you know you have something to contribute, it’s essential that you speak up again. Make sure you stay centered around your goal of the company’s success when you speak up again and be prepared to back up your ideas with credible data rather than just your opinion. Look for a way to approach the conversation that will make it more likely that you’ll be heard (remember to listen generously). If you can’t seem to find a way to be heard, look for someone to give you support and coaching. You don’t have to take on speaking up all on your own! 

Speaking Up Is Key

Speaking up isn’t easy, but it’s essential to both your organization’s success and your growth as a leader. If you focus on these 3 keys to speaking up—turn up your listening, communicate commitment, and be persistent—the next time you have an opportunity to speak up, you’ll have the tools you need to have a positive impact on your team and make a difference in your organization.