Kiwi life coach and workplace expert Kris de Jong shares his advice on the dos and don'ts of speaking up at work.
Effective communication is a vital skill to have for your career advancement, so it pays to know when to let your voice be heard and when silence is golden.
Speak up when:
You're being harassed or bullied
Thankfully, these days it's a lot easier to speak up when you're being harassed or bullied.
Government agency Employment NZ says "Bullying, harassment and discrimination must be investigated and the person affected must be supported by the employer".
More importantly, workplace culture doesn't tend to tolerate this kind of bad behavior anymore, and the recent #metoo movement has given more credibility to abuse allegations.
Talk to your boss or HR manager about your concerns and get issues resolved before it gets worse.
You have a good idea or suggestion
Most businesses these days are a lot more receptive to ideas and feedback from their employees.
You may have valuable insights into how to increase efficiencies and productivity that your managers can't see, as they're not in the trenches every day.
Suggesting potential solutions and improvements to management may see you up for a promotion or bonus.
You wonder about unintended consequences
When changes or perceived improvements are made in the workplace, there are often unintended consequences that can present different challenges.
If you can see a potential issue that may occur as a result of that change, it's best to speak up so it can be addressed before it happens.
You want a raise
If you don't ask, you don't get. It's still a tight labour market out there, so you should know what you're worth and get paid accordingly.
Request a scheduled meeting with your manager to discuss the issue.
Make sure you're well-prepared by writing down your desired outcomes from the meeting, how you intend to get those outcomes, what counterpoints they may have, and your responses to them.
You made a mistake
Nobody's perfect, and we all make mistakes now and then.
When this happens, take responsibility for it; don't try to cover it up or blame someone else. Learn from what happened and do better next time.
Doing this shows you have integrity and accountability - characteristics employers want in their people.
You think someone did a good job
People want to feel valued and appreciated.
When there's a culture of support and encouragement in the workplace, there are better levels of motivation and engagement.
A simple compliment such as, "Great work on that project, Michele - it's made a real difference" will help to nurture a friendly environment.
When giving praise, try to do it in public. Criticism is best done in private.
You want to improve a relationship
If you want to maintain or improve any relationship, including at work, it's always up to you.
Never rely on the other person to initiate communication. If you don't get on with that annoying colleague or controlling boss, and it's having a detrimental effect on your mental health, don't let it fester – take action to makes things better.
This may mean having a difficult conversation, but as long as you enter into it with respect and an open mind, you can usually find solutions or compromises.
Shut up when:
You find out some damaging gossip
Gossip is a ubiquitous and inevitable aspect of any workplace.
It's always existed and probably always will.
Indeed, some studies suggest some forms of gossip can actually be a good thing that helps to maintain morale. "I heard Nigel's going to retire soon" is probably fine, but "Did you know Lisette's having an affair with her boss?" may cause real harm.
Try to avoid spreading negative rumours about colleagues, as this can contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust and a toxic work culture.
Someone else is talking
No-one likes being talked over.
Make sure you're not one of those people who constantly interrupts, and instead engage in 'active listening', where you listen to understand rather than just wait for an opportunity to speak yourself.
Giving the other person space to express themselves and showing genuine curiosity will allow the conversation to flow naturally and increase understanding for both of you.
People have actual work to do
Although casually chatting and engaging with your peers on a personal level has been shown to improve mood and performance at work, when it interferes with productivity it becomes a problem.
Have an awareness of when might be the right time to have a yarn with
Len about his beer festival antics on the weekend, and when to leave him to work on that urgent report.
It's just whinging
There's a difference between identifying issues and finding constructive solutions, and just moaning.
Constantly complaining about how terrible your job is, or how management are all idiots, brings everyone down and lowers morale.
Don't be that person – take action on the stuff you can do something about, or adapt to the things you can't control.
You feel angry
No job is all smooth-sailing, and everyone gets frustrated sometimes.
As soon as you start to feel that rage building, it's best to take a few deep breaths and be silent.
Walk away if you have to.
This will give you precious time to process what's caused you to be upset, help you understand a bit more about the situation, and formulate a rational response, rather than flying off the handle.
What you say when you're highly emotional is seldom constructive and often something you'll regret later.
Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up will help you to get along better with your co-workers, managers and clients, as well as advance your career.
Kris de Jong is life and career coach at eclipselifecoaching.com based in Auckland.