There are so many reasons not to cause a stir in the workplace. You might just want an easy life: Don’t rock the boat. Toe the line. Or you might have gone beyond that into driftwood territory. Workplaces are made for stagnating in, after all, if you’re minded to do so. In big businesses, it’s incredible really how easy it is to hide, surrounded by so many people.
But what do people remember of their colleagues? Often, it is the things they did that were outside of the normal run of play. That might be when they ‘went the extra mile’, but speaking up is absolutely cut from the same cloth.
And speaking up obviously makes us feel good in the long run, too. This is really all about bringing your whole self to the workplace: make the workplace fit you; don’t just force yourself to fit your workplace.
So what kinds of standing and speaking up are there? Before I run through some pointers, bear this in mind: it’s generally wise to sleep on things before you speak up. Particularly if you’re not accustomed to doing so, jumping in means you might not express yourself as smoothly as you’d like. And you don’t want to put yourself off doing so again by the frustration you feel with not getting your message across successfully. Once you make a habit of speaking up, you can start acting spontaneously, particularly if circumstances demand an in-the-moment response.
Speaking up for yourself / expressing an idea
You have a cunning plan. It’s on the tip of your tongue. But you haven’t found the courage – or the right moment – to express it. Well, you simply have to find that courage. And as for the right moment, unless your boss is walking out the door at 5pm on Christmas Eve, there’s really no bad moment for an idea that will move the dial. Just make sure your idea is actionable and offer a skeleton plan for how it would be executed, including a timeline and the resources you envisage being required. Of course, don’t spend too long over the plan – or at least don’t let it look like you’ve spent too long!
Calling someone or something out
Has someone said or done something that’s out of order? Is there a toxic trend developing in your company’s culture? Is a project developing in the wrong way? It is so, so much easier to stay silent. But if you’ve noticed it, you’ll undermine yourself (even just a little bit, and lots of little bits add up to a big bit) by not speaking up about it. And you certainly won’t stand out!
But get your facts right, don’t act emotionally and choose the right forum and tone for your message: ‘Reply all’ is rarely that forum and ‘passive aggressive’ is never the right tone.
Note, too, that having a quiet word is often the best route. It’s also the scariest route, and the one least likely to make you ‘stand out’ – if you alert someone to something and they address it, they’re unlikely to tell the world you’re to thank. But what goes around comes around: you’re stockpiling good karma!
Something else worth bearing in mind is that, as much as speaking up is about expressing yourself, it’s safest to frame this type of speaking up in the context of your company’s official values, if you have them. (Of course, if what you’re speaking out about does not in fact contravene your company values, then you’re almost certainly not at the right company.)
Speaking up on behalf of someone or something
And this doesn’t just mean when someone has been wronged and you want to have their back. All too often, a colleague’s little successes are lost in the ether. Everybody assumes that someone else has congratulated them. You might as well be that someone. You’ll probably find the congratulations start coming your way, too. And nothing says ‘leadership material’ like finding the time to celebrate other people’s successes, however small.