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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vera Alves

Are you ready to speak up?

Speaking up can be challenging

At the beginning of my career, one of the biggest challenges was the courage to speak up. I would frequently choose silence as I thought my perception or opinion was irrelevant or would not be valued or welcome. Many other colleagues felt the same way. Hierarchy can be intimidating.[1] People don’t want to sound uninformed or foolish to colleagues, bosses, or clients.[1] Less experienced employees may also feel that their ideas are “half-baked” and may not be perceived as valuable.[1] However, finding the courage to speak up is fundamental to our professional success and the success of the teams and organizations we are part of. Leaders also play an important role in making the employees feel confident to share their opinions and doubts. This article will explore what companies and leaders can do to encourage their employees to speak up.

Other reasons to choose silence

Some people choose not to speak up because of the significant risk of doing so.[2] Challenging the status quo can be perceived as a threat to people’s status and relationships with supervisors and colleagues. According to research, speaking up may result in negative impacts on performance evaluations, being assigned to undesirable jobs, and even losing one’s job.[2] People also choose to remain silent due to fear of being ostracized and because they don’t want to be embarrassed.[1] Some prefer not to speak up to avoid negative remarks or because they feel that it is inappropriate to do so.[1]

The Need to Speak Up

Speaking up when something doesn’t feel right is absolutely essential. When done with respect and assertiveness, we open the door for change and set an example for others who are unsure of the best course of action. We demonstrate self-confidence and commitment to doing what is right. On the other hand, when no one speaks up, the work environment stays unchanged, and everyone in that context will probably suffer the consequences of remaining silent. Organizations need to promote a psychologically safe environment where employees don’t feel threatened to voice their opinions and points of view.

What Companies Can Do to Promote a Safe Environment Where People Can Speak Up

One of the qualities of a good leader is the ability to create a space where employees feel safe to speak. This can be achieved with a few important steps.

  • Never retaliate—If employees think they will get in trouble for speaking up, they will never do it.

  • Incentivize participation—Companies that encourage employees to speak up and support change can expect more participation and commitment.

  • Encourage discussions—Create a space where employees feel encouraged to speak up about challenges.

  • Follow through—If employees think that nothing will come of them speaking up, they will feel less inclined to do so.

Skills to Develop to Speak Up at Work

Speaking up at work can be downright uncomfortable if you are not used to doing it, but like any other skill in business, it can be learned and further developed. You can learn to do so by building up additional skills.

  • Influential Communication—People who know how to use communication strategies to influence others will have the tools they need to speak up at work. Invest in developing the ability to express your thoughts in a way that will influence a more critical perspective of others.

  • Networking—When you learn how to network, you will ensure that more people are in your corner. This can help you feel more confident about speaking up.

  • Self-Awareness—Being aware of your impact on people can help you embrace a better approach when speaking up.

  • Situational awareness—Learning how to read the room and identify the best moment to make your point can be a powerful tool. Speaking up is very important, but you need to do it at the right time.

The ability to speak up can be a powerful tool for your career advancement. It can contribute to innovation, changes in the status quo, and increase your relevance and perceived value as an employee. Additionally, it can inspire colleagues who don’t have a voice. You need to be respectful and self-confident, assertive, and aware of the importance of sharing your points of view. How confident do you feel to speak up in your work environment? Leave a comment below or email us at to learn more about how we can help you strengthen your leadership and communication skills.

Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.

_________________________________________________________________________ [1] Besieux, T., Edmondson, A. C., & de Vries, F. (2021). How to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking Up in Meetings. Harvard Business Review. [2] Gino, F. (2018). Why it’s so hard to speak up against a toxic culture. Harvard Business Review. Available at hbr. org/2018/05/why it’s so hard to speak up against a toxic culture.

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