At a time where the demand for transparent communication in the workplace is at a premium, employees are not speaking-up enough. How you express your opinions at work (or not) is a direct reflection upon how people experience who you are and what you represent as a team member, department leader and as an individual. Your voice defines the value you bring to the organization. In most cases, your identity is misrepresented because your voice does not consistently communicate what is really on your mind. If this sounds too familiar, it is apparent that you are not performing at your most optimum levels.
The ongoing political dynamics in the workplace makes it easy for employees to voice their opinion. For example, the next time you are in a meeting, ask yourself, “Who is really adding value to the goals of the conversation?” In a meeting of five people you are lucky if more than two consistently deliver. In fact, how many times has someone said to you in a meeting, “That’s a great idea you should do something with it.” What happens? More often than not, the idea remains dormant and then it dies.
Did someone hold you accountable to act upon the idea? Were the other people in the meeting paying attention to the opportunity that was presented to you?
In today’s workplace, more people are keeping quiet and are just going with the flow — thinking that this is the best way to advance, get noticed and / or win the political gaming that takes place at work. For others, it is a survival mechanism.
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What if I told you that keeping silent hurts you more in the long run? It’s true. The less you say, the more you enable others to define your voice and your identity. The opposite of this is also true. If you say too much, you create unnecessary noise, you become vulnerable to criticism — and if you don’t have authority you are at risk of ever acquiring it. Therefore, your voice must be balanced and objective. You must learn when to and when not to speak-up. But the key is to remain consistent. Being consistent doesn’t mean your voice is predictable and boring. It means that you are able to manage how and when you say things. A difficult task when you consider how easy it is to react in certain circumstances.
That being said, here are the six reasons employees must voice their opinions consistently at work:
Your performance at work begins to wane when your voice is not heard. Speaking-up fuels discussion, ideation and group-think. It’s important to discuss issues openly in order to get input, feedback and invite perspective. As you voice your opinion, those around you provide inputs that you can then evaluate as you decipher your final decisions that may influence your plan of action.
Voicing your opinion can create and convert those same conversations into meaningful research to help you drive more sustainable performance outcomes.
When you voice your opinion consistently, you set a tone for yourself. You begin to command respect from those who are not courageous enough to express themselves. But with expectation, comes responsibility. Therefore, be careful with the tone your voice creates and manage it. I have found that most people who speak-up, aren’t strategic. Many are “loose cannons” that just want attention and end up losing any momentum they have acquired along the way.
A consistent voice will command respect only when it is responsibly managed.
Strengthen your influence
A strong voice in the workplace can strengthen your influence. Many times the one with a consistent voice is the individual that is asked to lead a meeting, start a new project or is the one that is asked to speak with those who have influence to move an initiative forward. Once your voice is discovered, it can help mobilize your influence in ways that connect you with the other prominent voices in the organization.
As a reminder, here is a gift you can share with your colleagues.
A consistent voice creates unexpected opportunities. For example, someone heard you speak up in a meeting and found your opinion to be valuable enough to share with the President of your company. Sounds far-fetched but I have seen this happen many times. A consistent voice allows your talent to be discovered and creates opportunities previously unseen. Happenstance becomes your best friend.
Think of it this way: the internet is a field of opportunities. If you’re browsing or searching activities are focused and consistent, the likelihood of you finding new opportunities that you didn’t expect increases. Make sure your voice is heard and you are strategic in how you ask questions and share your points of view. Every week, your ability to speak-up consistently should create a new set of opportunities. If not, your voice weakens. Begin to measure your effectiveness. At the very least, be certain that your voice is invited to participate in important conversations at work.
Solidify your brand
You know that you have a consistent voice at work once you have solidified your brand; perhaps a nickname that people can rely upon. For example, early in my career — they used to call me “spark-plug” because I was known for making things happen! In other words, I was always called upon when a project wasn’t building enough momentum and needed a spark.
If you are deliberate in how you enjoy expressing yourself at work — others will take notice and people will appreciate your consistency and utilize the predictability of your voice. Your colleagues will grow to trust you faster as your brand defines your competencies and the value you bring to the table and represent as an individual.
Accelerate your career
There is a reason that certain people advance more quickly than others in their careers. They have mastered the art of speaking-up by having a balanced voice that their colleagues respect and admire. Their voice, i) enables the organization, ii) challenges the status quo and cultivates innovation, iii) inspires those that don’t have a voice, iv) increases their market relevancy & value, v) provides leadership and earns trust from the industry they serve, etc.
As you mature in your career, so should your voice. For some people, they never find their voice because they didn’t have the courage to create one (they just kept borrowing the voices of others). It takes time and only you can create the voice that truly defines you. Be more vocal, test your ideas and take note about how people react to them.
Work is not about winning popularity contests, it’s about winning the respect of your peers because you are able to lead people and help grow the organization’s value with your voice.
© 2012 Forbes.com