career

Speaking up at work is difficult for all of us - even Jessica Alba.

When I was young I didn’t know how to speak up [at work] and say, “I don’t like this.” I wasn’t that person [a sex symbol] people were portraying me as. I come from a pretty conservative background; I was a tomboy wearing baggy clothes. But you’re being marketed in a movie to sell it – I understood it was the characters I was playing.

This is Jessica Alba talking to The Guardian. 

Given, not all of us start our career the same way as Jessica Alba’s did. (I can relate to the tomboy / baggy pants combo, not to the sex symbol or movie-star-status.)

But something all women can relate to, is the fear of speaking up at work.

Maybe it’s your first job, and you are desperate to gain the experience without putting anyone off side. Maybe it’s your third job and you love it (for the most part) and don’t want to turn your colleagues against you. More often than not, you’re a woman, not a huge fan of confrontation, and you carry around a resounding feeling of gratefulness. 

“Thank goodness I’ve got this job. I’m lucky to have this job. I don’t want to complain, because I’m lucky to be where I am.”

(The woman factor and the gratefulness factor are often related.)

This same sense of “I owe you something” is what will keep you in the office late at night. It will see you taking on projects you don’t need to take, you don’t actually have time for. Compromising your values, your work / life balance.

How often do you say “I don’t like this”?

Problem is, this tendency to swallow, stomach, keep quiet, make-zero-waves is actually hurting your career.

Refraining from telling your boss that you disagree with the way he or she tackles admin, and that you have in mind a more efficient, more effective system, might seem like a good idea at the time, but the opposite is more true.

“In today’s workplace, more people are keeping quiet and are just going with the flow – thinking that this is the best way to advance, get noticed and / or win the political gaming that takes place at work.  For others, it is a survival mechanism,” business strategy consultant Glenn Llopis wrote for Forbes“How you express your opinions at work (or not) is a direct reflection upon how people experience who you are and what you represent as a team member, department leader and as an individual.”

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Obviously, the opposite is also true. If you say too much, this will also backfire into a negative, know-it-all reputation.

The key is to be timely and balanced. Know when to speak up, and how. Understand that your voice matters but, in order to be effective, you need to make your points in clear, well-researched points. Stay objective, and keep emotion out of it. And always be open to different opinions. You’re likely not the only one struggling to speak up. Who else has thoughts? Something to say?

Hey Mia, have you ever cried at work? Post continues below video.

Most importantly though, Llopis says, is to be consistent.

“Your voice defines the value you bring to the organisation. In most cases, your identity is misrepresented because your voice does not consistently communicate what is really on your mind,” he wrote. “Being consistent doesn’t mean your voice is predictable and boring.  It means that you are able to manage how and when you say things.”

Here are some practical tips:

Be prepared. Do your research, know the ins and outs of what you’re suggesting. Even if you’re not confident speaking at first, your knowledge of the subject-matter will quickly take over.

Back yourself. Think about possible arguments or objections people might have before the fact. Think about where they’re coming from and have ideas of how to mitigate those arguments. Don’t feel shut down at the first hurdle. Back yourself and confidence (adrenaline) will follow.

Don’t underestimate the power of posture and tone. Lower your voice, and speak from the stomach. (It will make you sound more confident than you really are). Use a “power posture” (i.e. stand like a man) and people will take you more seriously. An appearance of confidence matters, not only in convincing others, but also in convincing yourself. Fake it till you make it, right?

Finally, don’t overthink it. If you have something to say, don’t question yourself and repeat possible phrases in your head 10-15 times. Just say what comes naturally. If you’re overthinking it, you’re more likely to back down and not say anything at all.

Trust yourself, you got this. 

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