Do you worry that people will judge you?

12 tips to help you speak up (even when it feels scary)

A few weeks ago, a reader shared a challenge that most of us grapple with at some point.

You have great ideas, something you want to say and a unique perspective to share. But when it comes time to speak up, especially in high stakes situations (meetings with senior management, important negotiations or difficult conversations with family or friends), your nerves kick in and hijack your brain.

All of a sudden, it’s hard to find the right words, remember the point you want to make or perhaps, to speak up at all.

Can you relate? I know I can.

Early in my career when I was a rookie junior account executive at an ad agency in New York, I was beyond excited when I was sent to cover my first photo shoot. My agency was creating an ad campaign for a client who was sponsoring a major women’s golf tournament.

One of the shots featured a smiling female golfer, club in hand, poised to strike the ball. But as the photographer snapped away, I noticed that something looked off to me. The right-handed model was wearing a golf glove on her right hand. I didn’t know that much about golf, but I was pretty sure the glove was supposed to be on her left hand.

Should I say something? It felt risky. I’d only be on the job a few weeks and I was worried about making a mistake.

Since I didn’t totally trust my golf knowledge, I called someone (who later became my husband) who was an expert at the game. He confirmed that a right-handed golfer would definitely wear the glove on her left hand.

With my legs shaking, I approached my boss and told him the news. He wasn’t happy about the extra time and expense involved, but the correct glove was produced and the pictures were re-shot.

Why was it so difficult for me to speak up? The truth is, I was afraid of how other people would judge me.

And my mind had quickly catastrophized the situation and the possible negative outcomes. I told myself: everyone here is more senior and knows more than I do – who am to say something? What if I’m wrong and my boss gets mad that I made the agency look bad in front of the client? What if I’m right and the client is angry because the pictures have to be re-shot? I could jeopardize a multi-million dollar account – and maybe even my job.

 If you’ve ever found yourself feeling hesitant to speak up, here are 12 practical tips to help you harness your nervous energy so you can speak your mind.

Prepare Mentally

  • Set a goal for the conversation
  • Plan what you want to say
  • Practice speaking up in lower risk situations

Get Physical

  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Stand tall
  • Smile
  • Keep your body language open

Be Present

  • Listen more than you talk
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Communicate one idea at a time
  • Avoid words that convey lack of confidence (just, sorry, should)
  • Recap key points and agreements

The confidence to speak up is like a muscle. It gets stronger and more powerful with exercise.

 As Brene Brown said:

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe and who I am?”


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