20 Aug Seven Ways To Speak Up Smartly At The Office

Speak up, make your voice heard

Speak up, make your voice heard (Photo credit: HowardLake)

We know that advocating for yourself at the office is essential, but how you do it determines your success.

I recently had lunch with a C level executive at a public company. She had been promoted to COO and her new role included overseeing a number of additional departments. I listened as she described her first one on one meetings with her new direct reports.

Some walked into this initial meeting explaining that they had always admired her work and had been waiting for a chance to work together. As expected, she talked excitedly about these people.

And then there was one department head who immediately got off on the wrong foot. He was an executive who had until now, been reporting to the CEO, so this recent reorganization, with a new layer between them, felt like a demotion to him.

Upon first hearing that he would no longer be reporting to the CEO, the executive had set a meeting with the CEO to express his concern about no longer reporting to her. The CEO addressed his concerns, was unmoved by his arguments, and made no changes.

The CEO then prepped the COO about this executive’s unhappiness with the new arrangement. On the day of the COO’s first meeting with this executive, he entered the room and began with, “Well, you know I think this is a terrible idea…” He then proceeded to make a case as to why he should continue to report to the CEO.

He spent the entire meeting complaining to his new boss and not surprisingly, launched them into a negative relationship, one that will be hard to recover from in the future. Now he is not only contending with a new layer between him and the CEO, but a new manager that has distaste for him.

His mistake wasn’t in speaking up; it was in how he did it.

If we could have scripted these events for him, he would have changed course after his initial meeting with the CEO. He would have entered the new boss’ office with a positive attitude and explained that even though he initially had some concerns, he now understands the reasoning behind the move. He would then use their initial meeting to discuss how they could work together most successfully. His mistake wasn’t in speaking up, it was in not knowing when to stop.

Here are the seven keys to speaking up smartly:

1.  Address the Problem Quickly

When you feel a need to speak up, do it immediately. Decisions in a company are built off of one another. Once one thing is set in motion, it leads to others, and you don’t want the implementing of yet another decision to prevent a change to the first one.

2.  Go to the Right Person

In a large company, this means go to your direct boss or human resources. When there is no strict organizational chart, go to the decision maker. Approach this person in  a private setting, ideally in a pre-planned one on one meeting.

3. Put Your Attitude On

Regardless of the outcome, this meeting will leave an impression. Make sure you approach this with a positive attitude and in a calm and confident manner.

4.  Start with Questions

Begin the meeting by asking questions aimed at understanding the reasoning behind the decision. This might give you new information to help your position.

5. Focus on the Benefits to the Company

When speaking up, come prepared with reasons that benefit the business. These should not include your self-serving reasons like mortgage payments or your sick parent. They need to be for the good of the company. If your argument does not help the company, there is no sense in making it.

6. Avoid Badmouthing 

If you need to shed light on a colleague, do it through anecdotes rather than your subjective description.

7.  Don’t Mope

If the conversation doesn’t go as planned, adjust quickly. This doesn’t mean you need to drop the battle, it just means you need to snap on an outwardly positive attitude. Moping around the office never yields anything but an unprofessional label that will be hard to shake.

Samantha Ettus is a work life balance renegade, bestselling author, media personality and speaker. Connect with her at @samanthaettus.

To read this article on Forbes, please click here.

Samantha Ettus is a bestselling author & corporate speaker. The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction will be released in September.