Closeup Microphone on Stage with blurred background

4 tips for speaking up skillfully

4 tips for speaking up skillfully

Posted on July 2021 By Nicholas Farley

Microphone on Stage with blurred background

We’ve all done it – replayed a moment in your head when you could stopped someone talking over you, stood up for a colleague or corrected someone giving out inaccurate advice or information.

“At work, you don’t always say what you think needs to be said, and it’s not just you,” says Molly Tschang, a consultant, executive coach and business consultant, in a TEDxBeaconStreet Talk. “Your co-workers are holding back, too.”

This lack of action is detrimental to your team and workplace, and is self sabotaging. That’s because when you hold back “neither you nor your organisation are fulfilling your true potential,”
explains Tshang, who helps senior management leaders and CEO’s communicate more effectively.

But, we know it’s not always easy to just ‘speak up’ – with 45% of women business leaders finding it difficult to do so in virtual meetings – so here are four tips offered up by Tschang to do it more skillfully.

1.    Get rid of any obstacles

Before your call, meeting or presentation, prepare yourself. “You can make the work harder or easier for yourself before you utter a single word,” says Tschang. “Let go of emotions that won’t help you objectively see the situation or come across the way you want to be heard.”

2.    Set the right tone

You may be feeling impatient, apprehensive, annoyed or anxious, but focus on your positive feelings like curiosity, excitement, gratitude and confidence instead. Tschang suggests asking yourself: “Would you rather help a complaining colleague or the one who acknowledges and appreciates you? Would your boss be more receptive if you’re defeatist and timid, or hopeful and self-assured? Choose the energy that supports how you want to be perceived and the work to be done.”

3. Make space for other voices — and not just the loud ones 

Many meetings and organisations can be divided in to two camps: the noisies and the quiets. Tschang explains, “Quiets are the voices or viewpoints that we don’t hear enough of,” while “noisies are dominant voices hogging airtime. Their opinions can sway the group think.” But she emphasises that it isn’t good or bad to be either, the good comes from the opportunity to benefit from all voices.

Ideally, the chair of the meeting should step in to ensure that there is an equal representation of these two groups. But that doesn’t always happen. However, “any member, including you, can and needs to raise awareness” – so you can bring some light to the situation that introverts may be taking too much of the airtime and preventing others from contributing to the discussion.

4. Listen 

As well as clearing the way for the quieter team members to contribute, you can do the same for people who express less conventional ideas. “You must hear all relevant voices, especially the dissenting or unpopular ones,” says Tschang. This is very relevant if the meeting requires your group to reach a general consensus, as listening to different opinions will allow you to address disagreements and potential problems before they escalate into something more serious.

And after you – politely – overthrow the noisier team members, resist the urge to impose your opinions on the meeting attendees. “As MIT Media Labs research tells us, members of high performing teams talk and listen roughly equally,” says Tschang. “They keep contributions short and sweet.”

If you’re still feeling nervous about speaking up after reading this advice, realise your input will actually be helpful to others. After all, so many people are so caught up in their own jobs, tasks and lives that we may not realize the impact we can have on others. As Tschang puts it, “If someone felt disrespected by you or thought you were missing key information, wouldn’t you want to know?”

And if you’ve thought, “what is the use in saying something? It’s not going to make any difference” then think again. While it’s true that you can’t stop someone from dominating meetings on your own, you speaking up can help relieve some feelings of powerlessness. “We’re all part of the problem and solution,” says Tschang. “No one needs to accept dysfunction and sit frustrated on the sidelines.” You can use your voice to relieve other team members’ frustrations and feeling of invisibility by spotlighting them.

Speaking skillfully takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself and with your colleagues – but the effort is worth it. “Finding your voice, one that’s effective and authentic to you, is how you can be who you are and say what needs to be said,” Tschang says.

This article was taken from a TEDX blog on speaking up.