No matter your job title or personality type, speaking up at work can be challenging. It means putting your ideas on the line and opening yourself up to criticism.
But when you’re able to share ideas, ask questions, and give feedback, your self-confidence is solidified through your contributions. Your career benefits, too: Sharing your ideas, influencing others, and showing your work makes you stand out and may even help you get promoted.
Speaking up is a skill that anyone can learn and strengthen—it just takes a little practice. Studies show that using your voice gets easier the more you do it. Here are five ways to get more comfortable speaking up:
- Do Your Homework
The average employee attends 62 meetings per month, which means you likely have multiple opportunities each day to use your voice. To harness its full power, Susan Cain, co-founder of The Quiet Leadership Institute, suggests doing some pre-meeting prep to mobilize your thoughts and avoid feeling put on the spot. Before the meeting, read over the agenda and any relevant materials and prepare a few talking points or questions.
- Don’t Try to Read Minds
How many times have you wanted to speak up, but the fear of someone’s reaction stopped you in your tracks? Anticipating others’ responses can keep you locked in the Mind Reading Thinking Trap, where you make assumptions about what someone else is thinking. The thing is, it’s impossible to know what everyone is thinking all the time—and reading into others’ cues too much can get you stuck in your head and prevent you from acting on what you want. To escape this trap, counter the assumption. For example, imagine that you’ve shared an idea you’re excited about, but your coworker gives you a totally flat response. Instead of assuming they aren’t on board and letting your idea fizzle out, use a counter-thought, such as, “They might be tired or having a bad day. I’ll follow up later to ask for their opinion more directly.”
- Get Comfortable with Discomfort
If you’re averse to conflict, you’re not alone. One famous psychological experiment found that 75 percent of people avoided speaking against objectively incorrect ideas when they were not in the majority, and speaking up is made even more difficult by factors such as group size and authority differences. This struggle stems from our fear of rejection, which is driven by a fundamental need to belong—but this now-outdated survival instinct stifles growth.
To get more comfortable speaking up when others may not agree, you have to get comfortable with rejection. The key? Stop your embarrassment radar—your way of scanning the world with the fear of being judged by others or losing standing in their eyes—from getting in your way. When you go looking for something, you often find it, which means you end up feeling judged more than warranted. Next time you feel like you’re being judged, stop for a moment and check if your thinking is accurate (“Will this person really think less of me if I ask for/say this?”). Nine times out of ten, it won’t be.
- Lean In
Censoring yourself is a self-fulfilling prophecy—the less you contribute, the less you’ll feel you have to contribute. Keep in mind that your ideas are valuable, and don’t be afraid to start small: Working towards something you can actually achieve will take pressure off, helping you perform better as a result. Make it your goal to contribute one additional point per meeting than you currently do. “The sooner you contribute, the less time you have to generate self-doubt,” says Joel Garfinkle, author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. “When you delay saying anything, it gets harder to break into the discussion.”
When it comes time to speak up, quiet any self-doubt by staying present and breathing deeply if you feel nervous. Even if you’re not one hundred percent satisfied with what you said or how you said it, reflect on what went well and congratulate yourself for taking a risk. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.