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Trouble speaking up at work? How to overcome this common fear

3 ways to become more confident if you’re unable to speak up during work meetings

Leading a meeting or presenting a deck are common workplace practices, but for some people, it is incredibly difficult to speak up at work.

Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength and associate professor of behavioural sciences at the Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados, said this fear happens for a variety of reasons.

“Shy people, for example, are reluctant to speak out in public because they are uncomfortable being the focus of attention,” she told Global News.

“Socially anxious individuals worry about suffering embarrassment or humiliation,” she explained. “Introverts, by contrast, like to work out their thoughts privately before sharing them.”

READ MORE: Asking for a raise, networking and culture — an introvert’s guide to the workplace

She added that in rooms where ideas are flying back and forth, the pressure to respond quickly or on the spot can add even more pressure.

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And once people are known in the office for not speaking up or contributing to larger projects, employees may be reluctant to ask for their advice at all.

“This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: you don’t expect the quiet person to speak so you keep talking, which ensures that he or she will not speak,” she continued.

“Introverts do not like to interrupt, but they often have ideas they want to share. Simply asking a quiet person how he or she prefers to provide input can solve the mystery.”

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Helgoe said some people prefer to be invited to speak, some prefer to share their ideas in writing, and some just need some time to prepare their thoughts.

When your fear turns into a larger problem

Some, like experts at job-hunting site Monster, added the fear of speaking up, in general, could even cost an employee their job.

One DecisionWise Benchmark study found when employees don’t speak up, it can lead to non-productive habits, reduced performance and turnovers and a higher chance of being absent.

“There are four very common fears that stand in the way of you speaking up, especially as a new hire,” author Jon Simmons added.

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READ MORE: 5 simple ways to manage your daily anxiety

Some believe they are too new to have their opinion count at the workplace, while others are never too sure if they are 100 per cent right.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re not an expert on the material or subject of the meeting. Of course, you should come prepared for the meeting with a few thoughts and talking points, but don’t get discouraged from sharing your opinion in the future if you’re wrong about something.”

Glenn Llopis explained in Forbes, unless you speak up, you can’t fully thrive at work. 

“There is a reason that certain people advance more quickly than others in their careers,” he wrote. “They have mastered the art of speaking up by having a balanced voice that their colleagues respect and admire.”

How to be more confident

But this is easier said than done. Getting over the fear of public speaking doesn’t happen overnight, but Helgoe said there are ways to slowly conquer this fear.

For starters, be prepared. “For introverts, the preparation they enjoy is what can build confidence and ensure success. Avoidance is the biggest trap because it blocks preparation.”

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Do the research, practice your delivery and talk through your ideas with someone you trust. “People forget how helpful preparation can be for informal interactions. If you learn more about the people you are going to meet at a work reception, for example, you will be able to enter conversations with curiosity and context.”

READ MORE: Parents who miss work to help children suffering from anxiety cost Ontario economy $421M a year

Seek other ways to improve public speaking — most major cities have Toastmasters groups for example, or similar workshops that help people develop these skills. Some companies even have courses employees can take during work hours.

“Discover how much fun it can be to present in a low-stakes, high-support setting while honing your skills for a variety of speaking scenarios.”

For those days when you do feel extra nervous or not confident, remember that it happens to most people.

“Remember that most people are anxious about speaking in public, so go easy on yourself.”

arti.patel@globalnews.ca