Do you find it hard to speak up at work? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. In spite of the demands for transparent communication within the workplace, many employees still struggle with speaking up. Many refrain from speaking up or against something. Many avoid speaking up because they feel that their opinions may lead to disagreement. Clients have shared it’s easier to avoid the emotional effort required to solve a disagreement than speak up.
Speaking up can be difficult and at the same time important because a lot is at stake. I witness the challenges in private practice where clients initially have so much to say about their work-related stresses. However, they are silenced by their inability to find their voice in their work environment.
Furthermore, there will be fears in the workplace culture that prevents individuals from speaking up. For example, fears of being socially stranded; fears of retaliation and the overall lack of support from employers. Some individuals never find their voice because they didn’t have the courage to create one growing up. On the other hand, they may have borrowed the voices of others. As a therapist, I encourage my clients to consider times in their past, possibly in their childhood where they struggled to find their voice and what it meant for them. I believe, how we express our opinions, ideas and concerns at work is a direct reflection upon how others experience who we are and what we represent.
In today’s society many people are remaining quiet. They are going with the flow, with the hope they will advance and get noticed. I really understand that strong need to remain safe and hidden.
So I invite you to consider the following: “The less you say the more you enable others to define your voice and your identity”. This intervention has been shared with many clients and it has evoked emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, surprise and relief. As human beings we strive for autonomy. Restrictions on our autonomy may lie at the heart of a great deal of unhappiness. Our identity can be misrepresented because our voice does not consistently communicate what is really on our mind. When we are reminded that others potentially have greater power and control over who we are, we can make a choice to either accept this or find the courage to own our voice and speak up. I am not suggesting individuals should be screaming the place down however a balanced and objective voice is much needed.
I believe society needs to consider moving away from the narrative that those who speak up are troublemakers, which ties in with the hashtag metoo movement. So many individuals have been affected by this, speaking up can save lives and livelihoods.
To summarise, working with a psychotherapist you can explore ways to understand and acknowledge any difficulties in speaking up. Through this process you can assert your sense of individuality, your values, feelings, thoughts, ideas and so on. I believe by finding the courage to speak up, you honour your own boundaries; clarify what is not acceptable and start living a more empowered life.