Five Steps on How to Break Through your Fears of Speaking Up at Work.

As an employee how many times have you bitten your lip, sucked in your breath or just used your inside voice regarding a tough work situation? Can you count the number of times when you wanted to share your opinion, voice your concerns, offer your feedback and chose not to? Are those numbers larger than you would like to admit? A leading human contributor to poor communication at work is that you may be fearful and afraid of speaking up. Although you may have valid reasons for those stirred emotions, electing not to speak up comes with a high price.


According to a survey entitled The State of Miscommunication: 6 Insights on Effective Workplace Communication, it notes "For many of us, the biggest barrier to having high-quality conversations is that we're afraid to share what we're really thinking and feeling. We chicken out … when the opportunity is on the table to voice our concerns. Being real is scary, but it's the unreal conversations that should scare us because they're incredibly expensive. A problem exists whether we talk about it or not."


From an organizational perspective, a main contributor to poor communication is that the culture is created and perpetuated by leaders who lack effective communication skills. Effective communication skills, both inside and outside of work, have huge benefits. Richard Branson says “Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess”. So, whether you are in a leadership role or are working to get there, your ability to speak up and allow your voice to be heard will serve to be invaluable.


So how do you get there? For starters, for there to be open, transparent and authentic communication in an organization, it must start from the top down. At the same time, you as an employee have personal accountability and a level of ownership and responsibility about how you choose to communicate and show up in your workplace.


How can you start to empower yourself, speak up and express your opinions so you are actively at the table? Here is a process you can utilize when an issue arises using a five-step method to help you speak up. It starts with these questions what, then the why, then who(m), the where and how and finally the when and will it be safe? You can use this process with small or large issues. Let’s begin.


Step #1: Start with the WHAT:

What exactly is the issue you are grappling with at work? Can you articulate and capture the issue in a few short phrases or words? For example, are many of your colleagues habitually coming in late or calling in sick from work? Is the workload unmanageable even by a super achiever’s standards? Is there a manager or an employee with a bad temper and attitudinal issues? The primary goal in this first step is to define and state the problem clearly.


You may find that you will need some support from a peer, partner, or friend to wrap your hands around identifying the issue and communicating it succinctly. Once you have established clearly what the problem is then write it down.


Step #2: Move to the WHY:


Once you have determined what the problem is then pinpoint why is this a problem. What is it about this issue that is impacting either your effectiveness, your team’s effectiveness and/or the organizations effectiveness? How are the people and/or the work getting impacted?


For example, if your colleagues continually come in late or are habitually absent, it may end up leaving more work for the group that does show up. It may send a message to the other team members that timeliness and being present is not valued. It could impact team morale and can result in levels of disengagement. You may doubt your managers leadership abilities and their ability and comfort in tackling and confronting poor performers?


There may be several factors that contribute to why your issue is a problem, so jot them down and convey the ways and impact this issue is having on you, the team and/or the organization.


Step #3: Identify WHO(M)


The next step is to identify who or whom should be the receiver of this issue or problem. Discern who needs and should hear the issue. Is this an issue you can bring straight to the party involved, a peer, your manager or Human Resources? Who is the individual or team that would be able to support you best in resolving the issue? Decipher those variables and figure out who needs to be in the conversation.


Step #4: HOW and WHERE


This next step is a two-pronged process; which mode of communication would serve this message best and then where you will deliver the message. The level of emotion, concern about the receiver’s response and/or seriousness of the issue will help you determine which mode of communication you should employ.


Will this conversation be best served by text, email, virtually or in person (if available)? Deciding on the mechanism for delivering this message will be important. Sensitive issues, for example, would be best addressed in person. If you are uncomfortable with comments a colleague or manager is making it will benefit you to speak to someone in person in Human Resources for example. We all know how messages get completely misinterpreted and misconstrued when sent by text or email. So, take some time to think about the best way to impart your message. If you have concluded that an in-person dialogue would be best, decide on the most fitting location.


Step #5: WHEN and WILL IT BE SAFE?


Now that you have established what the issue is that you want to address, why it is important to address and resolve, who should be involved in the conversation, the mode of communication and the location if done in person, the next step is to determine when to address the issue and assess will it be safe to do so?


What day and time work best? Should you address it at the beginning, middle or end of the day? Tackle this issue as close as you can to when the situation occurred so extensive time does not elapse. Solidify when the conversation will occur and then determine the risk. Will this be a safe process? You may wonder if there will be negative ramifications if you speak up, you may just want to avoid the issue altogether or you may explore what the consequences will be if you don’t speak up. Ultimately, you will decide if you will take on and brave the conversation.



Using this five-step process will build your confidence and your skilled communication stride. Speaking up takes risk, courage, preparation, planning and lots of practice to master. As Paul J. Meyer once said, “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success”.