Why You Need To Speak Up At Work (And Why You Don't)

Have you ever noticed seemingly illogical decisions being made at your work without questioning them? I certainly have. Related: How To Find Your Voice At Work However, over the past 10 years I've become less worried about speaking out about issues or decisions that don't appear to make sense, and I believe achieving this mindset can help you in your career.


Why You Need To Speak Up At Work

You become more proactive, more influential, and gain more respect when you approach this in the right way. It also helps to relieve the mental stress of feeling powerless about issues in your work. Having too many people unquestioningly agreeing with the status quo can cause issues for several reasons:
  • One person's approach can be adopted time and time again. It could be that the approach is sound and everyone agrees with it, or that people aren’t telling the truth. Never discussing more than one way of doing anything is a good way to result in approaches that are sub-optimal.
  • It creates an environment which reinforces itself over time - people in the team feel less empowered to contribute, and before you know it you have a dictatorship.
  • It is a breeding ground for unethical decisions - a lack of input into decision making and blind obedience can result in unethical practices going unchallenged.

Why You Don't Speak Up At Work

So, why don't people speak up? In my experience, there are several reasons:

You think, "Somebody must have already thought of this."

This is something that I think a lot in my career. You are working with many teams of people, all in various communication silos. You think to yourself "no need to worry, somebody must have thought of this issue already." Guess again! If you're thinking it, but you haven't seen or heard any mention of it, it is worth asking a few gentle questions and initiating some action before people walk blindly off a cliff, when you could have said something.

You worry that you don't have all the information, or you just don't “get it.”

Sometimes decisions are made that seem to make little sense. So, it is very common to second-guess yourself. Maybe they're smarter than you... maybe you don't have all the information. When I am concerned that I don't have all the information or don't understand an issue, I try to think of a piece of information that I could be missing that would make it OK. If I can think of some reasonable information that if I had it, would make that makes the situation OK, then I'm less concerned. If not, it's time to start asking questions. Start with your peers before you start asking your boss what the hell they were thinking. Gently probe into issues - if it starts to become clear that something is amiss, then perhaps you should be speaking up before the train runs off the tracks.

You are worried about losing your job.

If you're too worried about losing your job, you are far less likely to speak up and question decisions. It’s sad to see people sitting mute in a room where something bad is transpiring because they have either given up or they're concerned for their jobs. I get it - you have a mortgage, family, it's hard to find another job. But really, are you happy with yourself when you let others get away with making poor decisions on your watch? To try to relieve the fear of potential job loss and free yourself from your mental prison of anguish:
  • Save up some "screw you" money - this is enough money that you could live for a few months or longer without needing another job. It enables you to effectively say goodbye to your employer should they do something that is unacceptable. Related to this is the concept of living within your means - spending less so you can save more, or not taking on that huge mortgage that means you have to be earning $250K + per year
  • Always have some "screw you" options - these are potential job options that you have uncovered through your networks. The trick here is to maintain contact with people who might be able to offer you a job should you need it. Don't wait until you've quit to contact your network, do it well in advance and maintain it
Free yourself from your employer's shackles and speak without remorse! This is a guest post.

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