Speaking up for others at work isn’t always easy — especially if we believe it’s not our place to get involved. “Trying to communicate in a way that goes against your natural tendencies can be uncomfortable,” Michael Alcée, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Thrive. “Confidence starts with being in alignment with who you are.” And to find that alignment, it’s important to listen to those around us, and use our voices when something feels unjust or unfair.
Try these actionable tips to help you feel more comfortable speaking up for others on your team:
Start by listening
Before we can speak up for someone else, it’s key that we listen to how they feel about the situation and better understand where they are coming from. “It’s important to think about listening in a broader framework — one that includes being open, assimilating, accommodating, and revising your existing theories based on the information around you,” Ben Dattner, Ph.D., a New York City-based executive coach, tells Thrive. Before you speak up on a teammate’s behalf, take a few minutes to sit down with them and get more context. “It’s about having a mindset that allows us to accept information that will add to our current understanding,” Dattner explains. “That’s how we can embrace deeper learning.”
Write down what you want to say beforehand
Writing your thoughts before you say them out loud can help you clarify your point and feel more comfortable presenting it to others. “Gaining the confidence to speak up comes down to that preparation,” Alcée explains. “Writing it out helps you work from the inside out.” Take a minute to jot down what you want to say, and then speak up when you feel confident in your message. “We have this misconception that we live in an extroverted culture where we need to think out loud,” Alcée adds. “Putting in that time to process your ideas on paper is essential.”
Be optimistic — but also realistic
Just because you speak up on someone else’s behalf doesn’t necessarily mean the situation will change — and you have to remember that that’s out of your control. Research on “realistic optimism” shows that when people set out to do challenging or uncomfortable things, they’re more likely to follow through if they approach the situation knowing it might not work out in their favor. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be hopeful that you’ll inspire change—just that you should also be realistic that some factors may be in someone else’s hands and may take time.