Speak up at work so that people notice you

I’m one of the privileged few who’s had the ear of important people.

People who have influence, those who are decision-makers and whose influence can shape the way our country responds to a particular social issue.  Few have this chance, fewer still who are women, and very few women who came from humble beginnings with odds stacked against them.

Despite what others’ have said, I didn’t get those meetings because of my looks, not because of my qualifications, and not even because of my passion or enthusiasm because lets be honest – there are plenty of enthusiasts out there who never get past a Minister’s policy advisor.  I’ve learnt to speak so that others listen.

  1. Be disruptive

It may defy intuition to disagree with someone holding power in a meeting, but you’re aim is to be memorable, not agreeable. History tells us that change is made via those of us who dare to be unreasonable, who offer a unique view of a problem and are courageous to speak up about it.  Clearly that doesn’t mean being aggressive, controlling or condescending, but you can simply and gently present counter-arguments that help you stand out as an expert in your field.  Approaches I’ve used successfully have been:

“I disagree, what I see is…..”

“Can I offer a counter-argument…?”

“I wonder if we’re not looking at the whole picture here…”

“That’s interesting you say that, I’ve actually noticed something different…”

Speak so that your boss listens

2. Sell the problem, offer the solution

Was it a coincidence that the term ‘male-pattern baldness’ was first noticed during the same time that Bayer were promoting their hair-growth formula? Before then baldness wasn’t a problem, some men simply were bald and not much was thought of it.  The cosmetic industry relies on continually finding new problems for women to fix; fine hair, dull skin, dark eyes, thin lips, sparse lashes… can you imagine Maybelline succeeding in a society where women felt okay with who they were sans-makeup?  I think not.

3. Do your homework

Never walk into a meeting without some preparation.  Nothing will undo your good work more than making an ill-researched comment, and often if you attend a meeting feeling under prepared you’ll be less reluctant to speak up and speak out.

4. Learn (even a little) about NLP

I was lucky to learn about neurolinguistic programming early in my corporate career. Matching your colleague’s body language can help establish quick rapport and build trust particularly in a meeting where you’re short for time.  I love love love it. NLP is something I regularly practice in lower-level meetings and I’m always surprised at how effective and easy it is, within a minute sometimes you can have someone mirroring you back – give it a go!

5. Know your position

I would never walk into a meeting without being acutely aware of a few things:

a) What my desired outcome is

b) What I would be happy to accept

c) My non-negotiable

d) What unique aspects or strengths am I bringing to the agreement

e) My archilles heel in the conversation

Being armed with a complete 360-degree view of your position both prepares you and reduces the chance that you’ll be caught off-guard during the conversation.  Many advocates I’ve observed have clearly given much thought to what they want, but less thought to observing their limitations. As a result they’re often ill-prepared for any conversation that doesn’t go 100% to their advantage.  Decisions can be made quickly at a Ministerial level and having the information, confidence and authority to negotiate those agreements is critical.


Finally, don’t underestimate yourself.  Remember Speak up in the workplacethat decisions are made by those who turn up (and have an opinion)!