HR Insights

The Importance of Knowing Just When to Speak Up

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This is short post this week, but this topic is on my mind because I have had this conversation with so many people over the past month or so.

Here’s the dilemma so many people face…

Two kinds of people

There is one kind of person (who is universally disliked) that brags, is always talking, pretends they know it all, doesn’t add value, but acts like they are really important.

There is another kind of person who is highly capable, but doesn’t speak up because they are SO afraid that they will turn into (or be seen as) that first type of person.

The reality:

  1. This NEVER happens.
  2. There is LOADS OF ROOM in between.

Smart, capable, humble, respectful

You can speak up and you can step forward – a lot — without risking turning in to that kind of person you don’t want to be. There is so much room between the two. Don’t worry about it so much.

If you are not already an annoying blow-hard, you are not going to turn into one because you speak up. That kind of person is a different species.

It’s important to contribute to the conversation.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright once offered this very good advice to people who are not stepping forward: Learn to interrupt.

You will not be given the floor to share your contribution. You need to work it in or risk living in the background forever.

OK, you might like living in the background. But just know that you are limiting your opportunity to contribute. You’ll get to do more excellent work it if you step forward and share your knowledge with others.

Give yourself a break

Many people feel unworthy of speaking up. I often ask people struggling with this: Do you think you are at least as capable as the person doing all the talking?

The answer is always a resounding yes, even more-so.

So the question is, why not give yourself permission to be even a fraction as confident as that other person is acting?

For more ideas, see Building Your Brand without Bragging.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .
  • Elyssa Thome

    It can be tough to speak up in meetings, but it makes a huge impact on the perception others have on your influence in the workplace. Great advice I received very early in my career is to come into large meetings with one point you plan to contribute. By preparing in advance, it makes it a bit easier to speak up, and that experience makes it easier the next time.
    Everyone knows who “that guy” is. If you are adding value to a conversation, you are very rarely “that guy.”