Speak (Up) Now, Or Forever Hold Your Career

How many times have you left a meeting mentally going over what was said—and realize a really important point was totally overlooked?

“Darn, I should have brought that up! Now, no one is going to realize it could be a problem.”

Why didn’t you speak up? Likely because a little voice in your head told you it didn’t matter, or everything important was already pointed out, or that you’d only prolong an already lengthy discussion.

Problem is, your decision to keep quiet could be detrimental not only to whatever was decided at that meeting—it could also be costing you career points.

The Proverbial Squeaky Wheel

Few women in charge want to be known for being “squeaky wheels.” The term calls to mind someone who’s constantly complaining, debating or hampering every solution with possible problems.

But women who work in competitive environments need the grease. Often, we deserve it, but are hindered by our own apprehensions. Consider these top three reasons we tell ourselves to stay mum:

  1. We don’t want to cause conflict. We avoid speaking up out of fear of being seen as fussy. Or too particular. (“Like, really, what’s she asking about NOW?”) Speaking up when everyone else seems to be in agreement or satisfied can make us look hard to please. The downside: If you usually let others speak first, or you work with more dominant personalities, you might end up relegated to silence. Others may get the impression that you go along just to get along.
  1. We don’t feel it’s ‘our place.’ This is a bad one. Especially if you’re naturally introverted, and prefer to remain “under the radar.” The downside: Left unchecked, this excuse could take root in your head to the point where even though you’re in charge, you feel it’s still not “your place” to venture an opinion or critique something. This will put your leadership clout in peril faster than you can say “let’s leave the important decisions to someone else.”
  1. We’re too unsure of others’ reactions. It’s the biggest speak-up killer. Who wants to say the wrong thing? Especially when you might not have a full understanding of all the details, even one question can make you look ill-informed. The downside: Your peers might think you’re so averse to risk, you can’t be counted on for new ideas or contributions. Or that you don’t have enough guts to put out your ideas for honest consumption.

What We Win By Speaking Up

One way to banish fear of speaking up is to grasp the underlying reason for doing it. If we recognize the positives that could happen if we speak up can fuel our determination to do it.

But how do you know when it’s right to speak up? Think through a few things first:

  1. Can you make a difference?

Are you speaking up to challenge the thinking about an issue or decision and provoke constructive conversation, or are you just aiming to prove a point?

What good can happen: If you just need others to agree with you, or want to prolong an argument, it’s not worth it. But if you’re interested in other points of view, and are open to differing ideas about the subject at hand, chances are your willingness to speak up will benefit everyone involved.

  1. Are you looking for honest feedback?

Are you speaking up because you could use others’ suggestions and critiques of an idea? If so, are you prepared to openly accept that feedback and work with it?

What good can happen: You could end up with genuine input about your ideas or plans—and it could help derail possible failure. Speaking up before you go down the wrong road will save you time and frustration, and your job in the long run.

  1. Is it a good time to make an impression?

Are you speaking up because you feel you’ve been overlooked, or feel strongly that you have an opportunity to show off skills or knowledge you might not have showcased before?

What good can happen: Speaking up when you believe you have something valuable to contribute will get you noticed. If the opportunity presents itself and you strongly believe in your arguments or ideas, you’ve earned the credibility to put it—and yourself—in the spotlight.

There’s really only one hard and fast rule about speaking up: Be certain that what you’re speaking up about is said at the right time for the right reasons. Chances are, you’ll later be glad you did.