September 14, 2022

Build Your Confidence in the Workplace: The Power of Speaking Up

It isn’t always easy to speak up — for our own needs or someone else’s — but in some cases, speaking up can improve a situation. Worse, not speaking up could lead to a massive breakdown in communication, not to mention our confidence. We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and those we’re most trying to help (patients and caregivers) to learn how to speak up when it counts.

Picture of By Stuart Paap

By Stuart Paap

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Build Your Confidence in the Workplace: The Power of Speaking Up

Speaking up means something different to everyone. 

For some, it may mean having the courage to share your point of view 

For others, it may mean defending yourself against another person’s damaging behaviors or worse.

Keep reading to explore:

Some common barriers that prevent us from speaking up, including:

  1. Feeling anxious, nervous
  2. Feeling unprepared, unqualified
  3. Feeling unworthy, and invisible

But speaking up is something that can help you protect yourself and others — and can even be a force for positive change.

How can you speak up?

Let’s dive in!

Common barriers that prevent us from speaking up

First, it’s worth considering that our background, culture, gender, personality, attitude, experience, seniority, and other factors all influence how we view speaking up.

There are two major barriers to speaking up in healthcare and the medical industry: a lack of culture or psychological safety in the workplace and an overly hierarchical structure.

Psychological safety in the workplace

Many people don’t feel safe speaking up at work. 

Some signs you may be in a psychologically unhealthy workplace can include:

  • A lack of basic rights, including the right to work in an environment free of harassment or discrimination 
  • Requests outside of the bounds of your contract 
  • Inability to access information needed to do your job
  • A lack of credit or positive reinforcement for a job well done
  • High turnover and low morale 

If your workplace culture is in danger of being toxic, I advise you to speak with your direct manager or Human Resources department.

Related: See why many people (even when they have legitimate concerns for public safety!) choose to keep quiet for fear of retaliation from their workplace in this TedTalk

“About 1 out of every 3 people are not advocating for the care they deserve”

Hierarchy and the history of silence in healthcare

Have you ever thought, “That doesn’t sound like the right choice for that patient?”

In this study by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, 30% of patients who experienced a problem while in the hospital did not feel safe speaking up about their concerns. 

That means about one out of every three people are not advocating for the care they deserve.

It takes courage to speak up on behalf of others — and, in some spaces such as healthcare, speaking up against attending physicians is even discouraged. 

Rigid hierarchies in healthcare have led many medical personnel to keep silent about concerns for fear of retaliation from senior staff or personal embarrassment due to ridicule or negative comments. 

While you may think this culture is unique to hospital settings, hierarchy and power dynamics prevent even the most talented team members from speaking up across industries.

Holding someone accountable vs. shaming someone

Before we get into some tools and tips you can use to start speaking up, it’s important we cover the difference between holding someone accountable and shaming or embarrassing someone.

Holding Someone Accountable

  • Identifying an action with a negative consequence.
  • Working together to correct the consequences as a team.
  • Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that they desire to do better.

Shaming Someone

  • Identifying a person as the problem.
  • Making the individual(s) feel embarrassed or ashamed of a comment or choice.
  • Believing that mistakes are due to deliberate malice or lack of effort.

Accepting accountability and holding people to the same standards are critical skills for self-development, teamwork, and innovation. 

It begins with speaking up. 

Side note: There’s even a feedback style called “The Art of Radical Candor.” Check out how more teams use radical candor to foster a culture of honesty and accountability in this article.

How to prepare to speak up at a presentation or meeting

When it comes to building the confidence and tools to speak up, there are a few quick steps you can use to prepare yourself for speaking up when you have some advance notice:

  1. Share your expertise to establish authority
  2. Ask for advice to get them to share their ideas
  3. Be an advocate for others and create alliances so they’ll speak up for you 
  4. Prepare what you’re going to say (and practice so you feel more confident!) 
  5. Lastly, think about how you say something, not just what you’re going to say
  6. Ask Engaging Questions | Co-Create Solutions

I wrote a blog on how to present with power – whether your meetings are in-person or on screen. Read that here.

Start practicing

Beyond deepening your psychosocial awareness and learning new tools to start speaking up, the most important piece of the puzzle is practicing. 

Start by practicing in a safe environment such as in your home, with a colleague, or in a workshop designed with realistic scenarios in which you need to speak up. Even over coffee with a friend, you can begin anywhere. 

The more your practice, the easier speaking up becomes, and the more talented you’ll be at doing it professionally to achieve a positive outcome. 

Interested in learning more about how to speak up in biotech, pharmaceutical, or healthcare settings?

Contact me here, or send me a DM on LinkedIn.

Additional Reading: