Don’t Let “Being New” Stop You From Speaking Up
By Ethan Burris and Ruchi Sinha

Joining a new organization is simultaneously thrilling and daunting. The excitement of meeting new colleagues and making new friends. The high of taking on new challenges. The opportunities to learn things you didn’t know before. And the swag. Who doesn’t like coffee mugs, laptop sleeves, and t-shirts that tell the world about the great place you work?

But as a newcomer, you also want to prove that you aren’t completely raw. From understanding how meetings are run to reading your boss — being new requires a level of focus to unlearn the norms of your former job and train yourself on “the way things are done” at this organization.

The routines you learn may not always be the most efficient, though. Inevitably, you will encounter issues that make you pause and question, “Why does this company do it that way?” Or, “There’s a better way to do this. Why are people still using an ancient process?”

Of course, you don’t speak up. You’re new. You’re worried you might offend someone, that your opinions may not count, or that you’ve got too little experience to make your voice heard. Research confirms that newcomers speak up less often than old-timers, and when they do offer their insights, they are less likely to be heard or recognized than more tenured employees. As a result, they feel unsure about whether their ideas are sensible or how to bring them up in ways that are palatable for others.

Here’s the irony: While you may have your apprehensions about creating a good impression, you new boss likely hired you because of your unique expertise. From small inefficiencies to significant issues, you have the power to shape the future of work, and that means speaking up. Your organization — and you — are missing out when you hold back.

Based on our research and expertise, we’ve identified four critical strategies newcomers can use to speak up more effectively, and be heard. But first, let’s bust three common myths that may be holding you back.

What We Get Wrong About Speaking Up

Everyone — newcomers and managers alike — holds sacred beliefs about being new at a workplace. Many the assumptions we make, however, aren’t true.

I don’t know much because I’m new.

Being new is not the same as being a novice, but many people associate it with “not knowing much.” There is a danger in this belief. You may be tempted to let things slip under the guise of “not understanding,” or become frustrated. Our research shows that when people adopt a mentality of “That’s just the way things are done here” or “I don’t want to rock the boat,” they are less likely to speak up.

Reminder: When you are early in your career or new to an organization, you are often a great source of information, as you can more easily identify inefficiencies that longtime employees overlook.

See also  Forbes: How to Negotiate For A New Job If You're Underpaid Now.

Speaking up is a one-time event.

Newcomers tend to think that once they deliver a message to their managers, a eureka moment will ensue — the merits of their idea will become apparent, and the organization will then adapt. But, typically, that’s not how things work. Recent findings suggest that voicing feedback is not a “drop the mic” type of event. To create real change, you must speak up repeatedly and have several discussions with your manager (or stakeholders) over time.

Reminder: Speaking up the first time may not always yield success. It may not be because your idea is bad but because you haven’t spent enough time developing a relationship with your manager and earning their trust. 

My idea must be new and innovative to be heard.

How you express your ideas is as crucial as what ideas you express. When you speak up, you need to be conscious of how you present your suggestions. Our research shows that explicitly considering your manager’s point of view — understanding their strategic goals manager and key performance indicators – can help you better frame your ideas, and increase the chances of your voice being heard.

Reminder: No one wants to hear what’s wrong. Instead of pointing out the negative (Stop doing this), give possible solutions (Start doing this).

How to Speak Up (and Make It Count)

When you’re speaking up, you’re really indulging in a mini-negotiation: You’re presenting a perspective that you want someone to act on. This requires you to do more than come up with an idea. You’ll need to be confident and persuasive when you make your case. Here’s how.

Do your homework.

The first step to effectively speaking up is doing pre-work. Think about who needs to hear your idea or opinion, and why would it matter to them. Speak with other team members, peers, or mentors who have been around longer to gain their perspective before bringing your idea to your boss (or another stakeholder).

Ask them questions such as:

  • Will this make your life, or our manager’s life, simpler?
  • Has this been suggested before? Why was it supported or not?
  • How does this tie in with the larger goals of the company?
  • Who do you think needs to hear this most?
  • Am I in the best position to speak up about this, or should someone else?

Consider the time, the place, and the tone.

Not all ideas have to be shared at a formal meeting. Sometimes, a lunch with the team member or a coffee catch-up with your boss is a better option. When considering the time and place to speak up, think about the following:

  • What frame of mind is the other person in? Are they working on a project that may have them thinking about the issue that you want to speak up about? Are they struggling with a difficult project that needs their attention more?
  • Who else needs to be around to amplify your ideas and to give it credibility? Are they available?
  • Is it the kind of idea that will catch your boss by surprise, and should be shared privately? Or would it be “on topic” to bring it up in a group setting, like a brainstorming?
See also  Forbes: Ways to Make You and Your Resume Stand Out in an Interview.

The tone and style in which you share your opinions or ideas matter as well. A recent study found that it’s detrimental to the team when employees voice themselves in socially dominant ways (i.e., they focus only on their interests or do not listen to, disregard, or strive to outshine their colleagues). If you want to be well received, you need to communicate your idea in a deliberative, open, and respectful manner without dominating the discussion. One way to do this is to actively listen.

In team meetings, this looks like listening to others before speaking and amplifying their opinions when you truly support them. Research tells us that when a person publicly endorses their peer’s contributions, the peer’s voice is elevated, and in return, the person amplifying also gains higher status. In one-on-ones, ask the other person to share their opinion on the topic at hand before making a suggestion. You can end with an open-ended question like, “What do you all think about this? I would love to hear your thoughts.”

Strategically frame your suggestions.

Building off of the point above, recognize that all feedback is not the same. Some opinions and suggestions are going to be more sensitive than others, depending on the stake the person you’re presenting to has in the concept or process you’re trying to change.

Be conscious about how you frame your case. You can articulate it in terms of what’s going wrong and what needs to stop (a prohibitive voice). Or you can frame it as a way to improve upon a process or system and achieve goals (a promotive voice).

Research suggests that the latter may be more successful, as conveying loyalty to your organization and its goals when expressing your opinions is likely to be better received. Publicly, it’s especially important to avoid expressing an unsupportive opinion. You may very well end up embarrassing or unintentionally threatening your leaders or colleagues by fundamentally challenging their statements or the status quo. When you speak up in ways that aren’t constructive or that undermine others, your voice is less likely to be endorsed. Share your idea not as the “only perfect solution” but as an alternative perspective.

You could say:

  • I would like to build upon/add to what you said…
  • I would like to present another perspective that might help us refine…
  • I see the benefit in what you’re suggesting, but maybe we could consider making the following additions to that and here is why…

If receive criticism in return, keep your emotional composure and practice self-discipline. Pause to reconsider your views and incorporate the counter perspective(s) by paraphrasing it before presenting a follow-up point. You can say“Thank you for sharing that. Let me confirm what I heard you say… I quite like that and would like to take that perspective into account, and build upon it by proposing XYZ.”

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Others will perceive you as a thoughtful person who is willing to rely on and use the expertise of your team when making decisions.

Practice humility. 

Lastly, remember that there is a delicate balance between being speaking up in a way that’s inclusive versus speaking up in a way that’s overpowering. You can refine your voice further by understanding the difference.

An inclusive voice shows both confidence and humility. Confidence doesn’t mean that you hold your ground and aren’t open to criticism. Nor does confidence mean that your idea is the best idea. It means that your arguments and logic are backed by supporting rationale, evidence, facts, and persuasive examples. 

Humility, on the other hand, is shown by presenting your idea as an alternative, sharing the pros and cons, and connecting it back to the larger team goals. To practice humility, use collective pronouns such as “we/us/our” versus personal references such as “I/my.”

For example, here’s what a confident person who is willing to show humility sounds like: “I would like to present one solution for your consideration. The idea is X. Based on my research, this directly addresses the problem presented by Y. I’m not saying this is the best idea or the only one – but there is strong evidence backing it. I recognize there are a couple of downsides, including XYZ . What does everyone think?  I would love to hear your feedback.”

There are so many benefits to making yourself heard: You gain visibility, increase your influence, and enhance your credibility and social capital — all of which are needed to succeed at work. So the next time you’re hesitant to voice your opinion, know that it’s beneficial not only to you but to your team and your organization and it could change the way you all work!



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