Speaking up at work—asking questions during stand-ups and meetings, discussing needed resources with managers, offering insights about a project—can have enormous benefits. Increased visibility, influence, and maybe even pay raises and promotions as your profile rises are just a few.
Sometimes, though, this is easier said than done, especially because not everyone is comfortable with sharing their ideas and advocating for themselves. Whether the thought makes you nervous or you’re already a pro, these seven tips will help you speak up at work.
1. Be intentional about meetings
In a meeting- or Zoom-happy workplace, it’s easy to treat some interactions as inconsequential. Madeline Garber, a career coach who specializes in imposter syndrome, says many of her clients think they only need to prepare for a big presentation. But she urges them to form a speaking game plan for every meeting, no matter how routine.
“It’s small but impactful to look at your next day’s calendar every night and ask yourself: ‘What value can I add to this meeting? Why am I on the invite? What do I want to contribute? Will I be expected to speak up, or am I going to have to work a little bit harder to have my voice heard?’” Garber says. “Even having a few talking points is one simple way to feel more confident.”
If possible, add your speaking points to a shared agenda in advance to hold yourself accountable. This is especially helpful on Zoom, where people can often interrupt and miss cues. If you’re typically talked over, Garber recommends stockpiling a couple of go-to phrases to make sure you’re heard, such as “Before we move on” or “I’d like to add something quickly.”
2. Say, don’t ask
Get comfortable phrasing requests as a statement, not a question. “When you ask a question, the answer could potentially be ‘no,’” Garber says.
Instead, she suggests being open and honest. You don’t have to be brusque. “Say, ‘These are the things that I need to do in order to be able to achieve my goals and contribute to this team in the way that I was hired to do, and here’s why,’” Garber says. By making an authentic statement and sharing your reasoning, it paves the way for an actual conversation.
3. Start small
Self-advocacy is a muscle that needs building, so practice speaking up in manageable steps. “Don’t go after the biggest ask first,” advises Tosca DiMatteo, a transformational coach.
Instead, build your confidence with smaller requests that are more likely to receive a “yes” response. Positive reinforcement will help you become more comfortable with the process. “Build the muscle, build the skill, and see that you’re safe. It’s a primal feeling,” she says. “By being able to do it over and over again, by doing uncomfortable things, you’re building resilience.”
4. Find a connection
DiMatteo urges clients to build bridges through connection, not transactions. Your boss is likely a person with a family, hobbies, and worries, too. Find commonalities before making an ask. “Collaboration starts with really honoring the human first,” she says. “The more that you actually understand a person’s heart, a person’s motivation, and their own purpose, the more you can find your way in and the more you can successfully change minds and hearts.”
5. Look for an ally
If you have a hard time asserting yourself, cultivate a confidante who is comfortable with speaking up and ask for support. “There are always going to be people on your team who are clearly more comfortable speaking up,” Garber says. “Let that person know that you’re working on speaking up more frequently. That colleague can try to find ways to pass you the mic so that you don’t feel like you have to interject—which can be tough for some people.”
6. Choose your stage
Some people interact better face-to-face. Others prefer Slack or text. When flexing your self-advocacy muscle, use the venue where you feel most confident. “I encourage people to use the format that makes them most likely to follow through with asking for what they need,” Garber says. “Be honest with yourself. We’re not always capable of saying something face to face. If you’re the sort of person who is able to better express yourself in writing, that’s okay. Set yourself up for success.”
7. Consider the greater good
Last but not least, think about setting an example. By speaking up for yourself, you just might become a role model for somebody else—and spark a larger shift for your workplace culture. “We have no idea what our impact could be on others when we do the thing that others are afraid to do or that they don’t think they have permission to do,” DiMatteo says. “One individual taking action and being vulnerable becomes bigger than ourselves.”