Cat Got Your Tongue? When And How To Speak Up In The Workplace

speak up workplace

Does the idea of speaking up about sensitive subjects make you uncomfortable?


When is it best to speak up versus skip it?


The first key to speaking up in the workplace is having an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to voice their opinions or frustrations. Work might not always feel like a safe place to do this, particularly when dealing with harassment. In fact, 75% of employees who come forward about workplace harassment face retaliation. If your work environment isn’t one conducive to teamwork, honest conversation, and feedback talk to the HR/People leader and get help.


The next step is in understanding how to speak up, and in which situations it’s appropriate. For example, it’s appropriate to speak up if you’re experiencing some form of harassment; it’s inappropriate to get defensive when receiving criticism.



Here are reasons to speak up:


If you witness harassment or bullying.

Harassment is one of the most problematic issues in a large company. At least one-quarter of women surveyed have reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. And 75% of employees have been affected by workplace bullying. All forms of harassment, including bullying, can be uncomfortable to talk about, and sometimes even hard to recognize. However, if you notice someone being harassed (or if it’s happening to you), it’s crucial to speak out, and take the issue to human resources.


During brainstorming meetings.

Be sure to contribute during brainstorming meetings; including your opinions and ideas will help you be seen and respected in the office, and you’ll feel fulfilled knowing that you’re contributing and actively collaborating.


If you need clarification.

No one likes to admit when they are confused about something, especially at work. However, it’s important to make sure you’re clear on how success is defined for your projects, even if that means asking for clarification and risking “looking dumb.” Better to say, “I have some clarifying questions” versus to pretend you’ve got it when you don’t.


If you see something illegal.

This one might seem obvious, but it’s crucial to come forward when you witness behavior that may be illegal or sketchy at best. It could be as simple as taking that handful of pens from the office, to as complex as deferring the payment payroll taxes. In the latter case one of my clients learned their Controller wasn’t handling this the hard way—when they were fined. If a member of the finance team had simply brought it to the CEO’s attention it would’ve prevented a lot of hassle and expense.


Any time you feel something is “wrong.”

Chances are, if you feel something is wrong, it probably is. After all, your gut is your second brain. You feel psychological responses to stress in your gut… And that stomachache is often just your brain alerting you that something is off. Listen to your gut!


Once you know when to speak up, the question becomes: how can you effectively communicate your opinions at work without looking like you’re complaining all the time? The difference between complaining and speaking up is all in your approach.


Understand that timing is key.


It’s great to have good ideas. It’s not so great to interrupt other people to voice your own opinions. Read the room, wait your turn, and you’ll be better off for it.


Be open to feedback and support.

It makes sense that if you’re speaking out on something, you’ll be met with some feedback. If you’re pitching an assignment, for example, be prepared for your superiors and coworkers to ask questions and have their own ideas about how yours can be better. Be open to critique.


Be cognizant of to whom you will be speaking.

It’s important to realize not everyone will take your words the same way. You may need to alter your communication delivery, depending on whom you’re speaking with. Everyone has a different style of communication. Understanding your audience is a key to getting what you need out of the conversation.



Knowing when and how to speak up in the workplace is crucial to a happy and successful work environment. If there’s anything you’re unclear about, the best course of action will always be to ask! And be sure to listen to your peers as well. People will want to support you, and they’ll be grateful for your support in return.