Fear of Speaking Up

My second boss after graduating told me I was brutally blunt. He wasn’t wrong. He wasn’t being mean, yet it took me about 5 years to figure out the real message behind this comment. The idea that I was too blunt kept me quiet for several years so that I didn’t screw up and hurt my career chances.

What he wanted me to learn was that I could communicate a message without hitting everyone over the head with a 2x4 every time. I needed to learn how to better deliver my message based on the audience I was talking to. Simple in concept, harder to apply.

I’m not saying that, as a woman, I had to change everything about how I was talking to people. That’s not the case at all. This is something we do naturally in our everyday life, and we need to be intentional with it at work. How we talk to our kids, our spouse/partner, our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, the barista at the coffee shop varies because we have different relationships with each of them. When we ask a young child to help clean their room we use a different tone and facial expression than when we are asking our teen to do it for the 40th time.

What I’m referring to is adapting our body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice to help people hear us. What I’ve learned is that the words we use are the smallest part of the message we communicate. Our body language and facial expressions are the biggest part, with tone of voice close behind. Think about a time when someone told you they had good news for you, but their facial expressions didn’t match their words. I’ve had people tell me they were happy for me for some career achievement, but their smile looked forced and fake. I didn’t believe that they meant it because the words and expressions didn’t align.

So, what can you do to deliver a direct message without alienating your audience? Here are my favorite tips which helped me be more confident and comfortable speaking up.

  1. Know your audience. Who are you talking to? Is it your boss, his boss, other senior people? Is the audience your peers or people who report to you? Or is it a mix of all of them? If you know who you are talking to you can plan your approach.
  2. Think about your tone. When delivering a direct message, that may not be welcome by everyone, the key is to keep your tone calm and confident. Often when we are nervous our tone will give this away by going up at the end of a sentence. This sounds like a question, even when it’s a statement. Keeping you voice from rising will help you sound confident and sure of what you are saying. The trick is to do this without becoming monotoned which is boring and creates a negative reaction as well. This of it as reporting the weather. Stating facts and figures, sharing knowledge with excitement (if appliable) and interest without letting any doubt of your right to be there entering your voice.
  3. Mind your nonverbal cues. Pay close attention to the nonverbal cues you are sending. What is your face or your body language showing? Sit forward and make eye contact. Work on a neutral expression that conveys interest. I find it best to have a slight smile, lift the corners of my mouth slightly, otherwise it can look like I’m annoyed or angry. Keep you shoulders relaxed, not raised, or hunched over. Practice in front of a mirror or video yourself to get comfortable with your “expert” pose.

The more you work at how you deliver the message, the more confident you will be at speaking up at work. If you struggle with being afraid to speak up, start small and work on how you deliver the message. You can be direct without being blunt and you can be assertive without being aggressive.

You’ve got this!

See more tips on my Tuesday Tip video on YouTube at www.caroldougherty.tube.


50% Complete


Please enter your name and email to stay up to date.

We hate spam so we can promise your information will never be sold or shared.