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How To Speak Up and Still Be Likeable in the Office

Most will agree that sharing opinions and feedback is important in the workplace. This is how ideas are generated and solutions are found. If everyone can effectively contribute their perspective, then the environment can operate like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, human emotions and sensitivities can make it challenging to deliver and accept feedback or concerns. It’s easy to shy away from speaking up when we fear hurting others or being known in the office as aggressive or too vocal too often. Try these strategies for speaking up while still remaining likeable.

Talk directly to the source before going above them. We’re all adults in the workplace and we should certainly act like it. If you have any issues, speak directly to the person or persons in question about your ideas or concerns. Be sure to be non-confrontational with your approach. People will naturally assume a defensive posture when they feel attacked so you want to foster a sense of collaboration and productivity, not a sense of threat. Only bring in your managers or other higher level colleagues if the problem persists or escalates. 

Use “I” statements. Try to take ownership for your thoughts and emotions rather than pointing a finger or using a lot of “you” statements. For example, choose “I am concerned that we have not considered X,” rather than “You are not considering the impact of X.” Say “I am not sure I understand our goal with this strategy,” rather than “Your strategy does not make any sense.”Another option that opens discussion rather than getting others on the defensive is to ask for clarification or further detail about the rationale behind their perspective. Again, use “I/me”statements like “Can you help me to better understand your perspective on X?” or “Can you share with me about how we arrived at this option?”

Consider the other person’s perspective. Take a moment to step into your co-worker or boss’s world and imagine why they made the decision they made or said the things they said. When you identify what is important to them in the situation, it is easier to choose a way to deliver your opinion that will not criticise what they feel most strongly about. One element to successful communication is avoiding judgemental or critical language that will shut the other person down or get them on the defensive. 

Rehearse. When you plan on expressing a perspective that could be potentially inflammatory or evoke strong emotion in the listener, practise your words first. Write them out and perhaps even read them to someone you trust to get a second opinion about how your words come across. This may seem laborious at first, but with a few practices, you will begin to get a sense of how to soften the edges of your sentiments to make them easier to swallow. The rehearsal will also increase your confidence in having the conversation with less anxiety or intense passion. 

Have supporting evidence. While it is helpful to come into a conversation or meeting with true passion about your ideas and perspective, facts help convey your point even more. Use data to support your opinion, idea, or concern. Data carries weight and is harder to refute or deflect so, do your research and be prepared with some supporting evidence before you speak up.

Express flexibility.  When bringing up an opinion or idea, offer choices and options that can be considered, especially if you are hoping to counteract a decision that you are not pleased with. An open approach with a willingness to brainstorm different options has a calming effect and can reduce any feelings of threat in the other person.

Speak up often in a variety of ways. If you are concerned about your pattern of speaking up in the workplace as being either too infrequent or too intense, try speaking up more often about all kinds of things. This could mean that you share a compliment, second someone else’s idea, give appreciation for a peer’s effort, or simply ask a benign question in a meeting. When co-workers get used to your voice being heard in a variety of ways, you will not easily be labelled the unlikeable troublemaker when you do speak up.

Disagreements and intense opinions are inevitable, but useful elements in the workplace. They improve the flow of ideas and the creation of solutions, potentially even lowering risk. The key is to use proven strategies to make your helpful perspective be one that others want to hear.