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How to speak your mind at work

It doesn’t always come naturally and, for some, it can be frightening, but you do need to learn how to stand up for yourself in the workplace, if you want to build your career and confidence.  

It is important if you want to get ahead at work that you are able to present your ideas and argue your corner. This ability is probably as important as having good ideas in the first place. If you can’t do it, your hard work and talent may well go unrecognised and unrewarded. Here are a few key pointers.

Construct a business case
Whether you’re suggesting a new social media strategy or angling for a pay rise, put your commercial hat on and gather evidence that supports your point of view. This could range from effective strategies you have observed elsewhere or recent successes you’ve had at work. If you present an argument that’s backed up with relevant data; statistics or examples of quantifiable contributions you have made to the company, it will be easier to convince people of your ideas.

Know your audience
Find out who the people you need to convince are and what their agendas might be. Put yourself in their shoes – is the person who has the final say in signing off on your idea trying to meet a target? Are they dealing with a sudden change in management? Or worried about the safety of their job? An obvious but often overlooked truth is that the success of your ideas will depend on your ability to understand other people’s needs.

It is also important to make sure you’re talking to the right person. If you are in a relatively junior position, there might be a few levels between you and the decision-makers in your company. If that’s the case, make it as easy as possible for whoever is acting as a go-between to sell your idea further up the chain. Put together a short, simple presentation or a case study, and try to pre-empt and address any resistance they might face. Make their life easier and they are more likely to look favourably on your idea.

Watch your language
So, you are prepared, but the way you present your ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. Whether you do it consciously or unwittingly, littering your sentences with caveats and apologies in an effort to seem more agreeable is a sure-fire way to undermine your credibility. Qualifiers like ‘I might be wrong on this but …’, or ‘… does that make sense?’ don’t scream confidence. The same goes for using the word “just” as a way to soften the impact of your words. Instead of saying ‘I just feel like’, say ‘I think’; instead of ‘I was just wondering …’ ask ‘Can you let me know?’. Do not apologise for having the audacity to have an opinion.

Speak up
If you are naturally shy about speaking up in meetings, one trick is to say something at the start, even if that’s simply a matter of joining in the pre-meeting small talk. Often, the longer a meeting goes on without you having said anything, the more pressure you feel to impress with whatever you do eventually say, which can make you clam up even more. So break the ice early on. It’s a figurative and literal throat-clearing, so the sound of your voice doesn’t come as a surprise, either to you or to the rest of the room.

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