How to Make Your Voice Heard at Work
Hcareers / MARCH 09 2021

Getting a job is one thing, getting a seat at the table is another challenge entirely.

We all want to be more than just another cog in the wheel at work. We want to be valued team members, contributors to the conversation. We want to feel like participants in the decision-making process. In other words, we want our voices to be heard at work.

Sounds simple, right? Just speak up. Unfortunately, making yourself heard at work can be easier said than done and often more so for people in a protected class. While companies are increasingly incorporating diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices, those practices and behaviors may not have entirely spilled over into other areas of their day-to-day business.

For example, you could feel like more of an audience member in staff meetings than an actual participant. The invitation to participate in a meaningful way may never actually come. So assert yourself.

But this isn’t to say that you’ll now need to bring a bullhorn to work. Making your voice heard at work is a matter of striking a balance between being a team player capable of taking a step back when it’s someone else’s turn to shine and pushing yourself forward when the opportunity arises. So you’ll want to take a strategic approach to find that equilibrium.

Watch, Listen and Learn

Before jumping right in to share your thoughts and ideas, sit back and pay attention. Look at who interacts with whom and how often they do so. What tone do they use with each other? You’re watching for the power dynamics that are at play. That will inform who you’ll want to address when you want to share an opinion or idea, whether that’s in a formal setting like a meeting or during the proverbial “water cooler” chat. 

You should also be listening carefully. The topics that come up over and over again may not necessarily sync with the business goals and objectives that the company has put on paper, but they are likely important subjects to the people discussing them. Keep that in mind when you share your thoughts.

Also, note any reoccurring vocabulary. Part of being a team player is learning the language used in your workplace. If you want coworkers and supervisors to take you seriously, you’ll want to use that lingo to demonstrate that you’re on the same team and that you know what you’re talking about. For example, if the hotel security team is known as “Asset Protection” and commonly referred to by staff as “AP” for short, go with that term.

Be Respectful, Be Relevant

There are always one or two people at work who are borderline abrasive, yet for reasons the rest of us may struggle to understand, it seems to help rather than hinder their professional success. But the bull-in-a-china-shop approach is probably not going to get you anywhere. So be mindful that you aren’t coming across as aggressive.

You’ll also want to stay on topic. If you’re in a meeting or have a one-on-one discussion with a colleague or supervisor who is focused on a particular subject, rather than interjecting an unrelated topic that you’ve wanted to discuss, wait until the end of that conversation to mention that you’ve also been thinking about this other issue and ask if they would have time to discuss it now or if there might be a better time. 

Diverse Employees Speaking for Inclusion

Also, if you alone or you and a small handful of other colleagues define the company’s diverse hiring practices, you may find that the business is still working to create an inclusive environment. But know that you have the power to help create an inclusive atmosphere at work –by speaking up. 

That is, African American employees working at a hotel that is creating a promotion around Black History Month have a great opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas based on their heritage, culture and of course, their own life experiences. This is the moment to make suggestions like a local African American musician who would compliment the hotel restaurant’s ambiance or a lobby pop-up shop featuring a local black-owned candle-making business. 

Conversely, if there is an aspect to the planned campaign that could be deemed offensive by the target audience, flag that. But you’ll want to do so gently and respectfully of the fact that the person who came up with the idea may simply have not known that it could be viewed negatively. So make sure you explain why you feel there is the potential to cause insult to the intended audience.

Speak with Purpose

Taking the initiative to speak up is only half the battle. What you say and how you say it will also affect the perceived value of your input. So make sure you have a clear idea of what you’d like to communicate. If you begin your thought with a long and related preamble, your words won’t likely have much weight. Additionally, if you’re going to air a grievance or bring up a challenge that you’re facing, be sure to pair it with a potential solution and make that the focal point when you speak, not the problem.

When you speak, speak with confidence and intent. Avoid using “like” and other filler words like “um.” Don’t minimize what you’re about to say by prefacing it with things like “this is only an idea.” You’ll also want to keep your tone and your volume appropriate.

Even if you’re just having a conversation with your boss in his or her office or informally addressing a group of two or three colleagues, consider some of these speaking tips from Toastmasters International, a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Better still, consider joining to improve your speaking skills.