Have you ever been in a situation that turned out badly, and you have the nagging feeling that you should have said something to have prevented this? Most of us have. We have a natural reluctance to speak up when we see something we don’t like. Speaking up is a very important job skill. You are expected to speak up when you believe that something is wrong.
You will also be in situations where others want your opinion. Frequently this situation is a meeting. Others are stating their opinions, but are you reluctant to say what you think? That’s a common concern for many people who tend to be shy or lack confidence.
Also think about the times you have had a new idea but were reluctant to share it with others. Again confidence may be an issue but maybe you just don’t know how best to speak up.
Some of the reasons we don’t speak up are given below.
- We aren’t given an opportunity. – This may be more of a perception than a reality since opportunities are always there.
- We are scared to speak up because of reprisals. – This could be an issue in health/safety, environment, and quality concerns.
- We don’t feel comfortable expressing our opinion. – This is common especially for new employees.
- We don’t care what happens. – If this is the case, you have other serious problems.
- We aren’t quick enough, and it isn’t until after the initial conversation that our concerns arise. – There are still ways for you to share your ideas.
- We don’t know who to speak to. – In all cases, ask your boss or a more senior employee.
In most of the cases outlined above, not speaking up is more of a personal failing than an organizational issue.
If you are uncomfortable with speaking up, there is a simple approach that you can take to work through what (if any thing) you should say.
- Assess the situation
- Does the situation warrant your speaking up?
- To whom should you voice your thoughts?
- Are you the person who should be speaking up?
- Assess the appropriate method and tone for speaking up
- Decide what you are going to say.
- State your opinions and take appropriate action.
Let’s work through the following situation using the process.
You are a new employee in a company that manufactures a fiber-glass product. On the first day on the job, you notice that the skin on your arms has broken out in a rash. You ask a fellow employee about this situation and you are told:
“I had a similar problem, but I just wear long-sleeved shirts to work.”
While you can also wear long-sleeved shirts, you’re concerned that the atmosphere is harmful.
Here’s how the strategy outlined above may work in this case.
■ Assess the situation
- The situation warrants action. The rash may be a symptom of a more serious problem.
- Concerns should be expressed to a supervisor or safety person
■ Assess the appropriate method and tone for speaking up.
- The method for communication should be orally at first.
- The tone should be one of concern but not alarm until more is known about the situation.
■ Decide what you are going to say.
- Describe what happened to you and your fellow employee.
- Ask that the situation be looked into.
■ State your opinions and take appropriate action.
- Express your opinions in a sincere but nonthreatening way.
- Ask for some assurance of action.
- If no assurance of action, elevate your concerns to a higher level of the organization.
Although you are expected to speak up, you don’t want to become one of those people who speaks up so often or so carelessly that no one pays any attention to you. Outlined below are some guidelines for you to follow to keep from becoming “Chicken Little”,
- Keep your comments to what you know are facts. If you aren’t sure of the facts, make this clear.
- Express your thoughts without exaggeration or overstatement.
- Don’t threaten those who you are speaking to.
- Keep an open mind. There may be other points of view.
- Be willing to be a part of the solution. When you describe a problem, have an idea of what can be done to solve it.
- Speak up on important issues, not every little irritant.
- Let others have a chance to speak up. You don’t always need to be the first person to express an opinion.
Speaking up is something we do with our family and friends, the challenge is to translate this experience to a professional environment.