How to get over your fear of speaking up at work
When you’re low on the totem pole, it’s normal to feel intimidated. But, this is why you need to voice your opinion—even if you’re wrong.
I remember three months into my first job my manager told me in a one-to-one, “Good, you’re starting to speak up in meetings.” Simultaneously I felt a pang of fear and relief. Had my reticence damaged my reputation?
As a young professional, it can be difficult to tell when it’s okay to speak up and issue our opinions at work. Some of us are more naturally reticent or introverted than others, and some of us just don’t have the confidence in ourselves and our opinions.
The good news is that what we’re feeling is perfectly normal.
“We have a deep set of defense mechanisms that make us careful around people in authority positions,” James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management who specializes in transparent workplace communication, told Harvard Business Review.
So, yeah, it’s natural to have your guard up, especially as the new guy or gal. But even if you're wrong, or think you'll sound stupid, you need to speak up at work.
Here’s why: Fear of speaking up will cost you your happiness—and ultimately, your job.
Not only does not speaking up escalate dissatisfaction among employees, a DecisionWise Benchmark study found, but it leads to absenteeism, non-productive work behaviors, low team identification, and eventually reduced performance and turnover. If that isn’t motivation to speak up, I don’t know what is.
Stepping outside your comfort zone, and in front of the company, is easier said than done—trust me, I know. But as I learned, there are four very common fears that stand in the way of you speaking up, especially as a new hire. It’s time to put them out in the open—and finally conquer them.
I’m too new to have my opinion count
Remember, you were hired for a reason. And that reason means that you, your ideas and your opinions are valuable.
Rarely will you find a co-worker more senior than you that dissuades new hires to voice their opinions.
In fact, many openly encourage it. The chief marketing officer at the company I currently work for actively encourages junior employees to share their opinions in team meetings.
If you’re on the shy side, executive coach Joel Garfinkle advises you “look for opportunities in each meeting to make your presence known early on, ideally in the first 10 minutes,” he told Fortune. You don’t need to necessarily solve the company’s biggest problem—even asking questions or agreeing with someone will do. The key is staying engaged and engaging.
“The sooner you contribute, the less time you have to generate self-doubt,” Garfinkle told Fortune. “When you delay saying anything, it gets harder to break into the discussion.”
I disagree with everyone
We must never mistake opposing opinions with incorrectness.
According to Harvard Business Review, “research first published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that even when the minority points of view are wrong, they cause the rest of the group to think better, to create more solutions, and to improve the creativity of problem-solving.”
Don’t be afraid to speak up even if everyone else around the table holds the same opinion. Of course, dissent respectfully, but make sure you’re heard if you think you have a different perspective to offer.
I’m not 100% sure if I’m right
It doesn’t matter if you’re not an expert on the material or subject of the meeting. Of course, you should come prepared for the meeting with a few thoughts and talking points, but don’t get discouraged from sharing your opinion in the future if you’re wrong about something.
Learn from your co-workers’ areas of expertise—ask for resources to learn about whatever subject they’re versed in, whether it be sales, marketing, or client services. Knowing the ins and outs of multiple departments at your company can only serve you well, especially if you ever want to work in one of those fields.
I may not win them over
Look, not everyone will agree with what you have to say. That’s not just a neurotic fear; it’s a fact.
But feedback is good. Think of feedback as someone else’s investment in you. They’ve paid attention and are offering criticism so that you may improve, free of charge. Embrace it—especially if you respect their opinion.
After laying these fears out in the open, I volunteered to present at a company meeting. I was nervous, but I did my best—even included a few jokes—and answered a few questions at the end.
Colleagues were thrilled with my presentation, stopped by my desk to congratulate me, and afterward, I felt much more confident at work.
It’s your turn.