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How to get confident and speak up at work

If heading into work on Mondays has you filled with dread, you’re not alone: 80% of workers experience the “Sunday scaries,” or the anxiety you feel when thinking about the week ahead, according to a study by LinkedIn.

While the most common reasons for workplace anxiety deal with managing your workload and balancing your personal and professional responsibilities, stress at work can also come from feeling like you don’t have a supportive workplace, says Amy Edmondson, author of “The Fearless Organization”.

When people feel they can’t speak up at work, whether it’s pointing out issues with management or within the workplace, or just expressing their thoughts and ideas, this creates a culture of fear, Edmonson says. It also signifies a lack of “psychological safety” in the workplace, she says. These fears are often more intense for women, and hold them back more frequently than men, Edmonson says.

“Women will put the threshold for speaking up higher than men will because they will require themselves to be more confident that what they have to say is valuable,” she says. “Unless they're really confident that what they have to say is going to be well received, they don't say it.”

“This fear of speaking up, the fear of what your boss will think, the fear even of what your colleagues will think of you, it's really dangerous,” Edmonson continues. Within the health care sector where stakes are so high, holding back can risk human safety. In every other sector, Edmonson says there are missed opportunities for innovation because someone doesn’t share or they don’t ask questions that could have really changed how well they do their job.

According to a report by VitalSmarts, which provides workplace leadership training, just 1% of workers said they would be confident speaking up at work if they saw an issue, and 37% said they feared speaking up would hurt their career or label them as a complainer. Additionally, 45% of workers felt their coworkers would not support them.

Companies need to ask questions to foster an environment of innovation.

To eliminate fear in the workplace, Edmonson says anyone—from the lowest-ranking employees to the highest-ranking managers—can cultivate a culture of openness by simply listening and asking questions.

“Anyone can make a difference at work in creating a less fearful workplace: all you have to do is express interest in and respect for a colleague,” she says. “To do that, ask questions: people will feel not only that they must respond, they'll feel they want to respond. They want to respond and hopefully add value.”

Additionally, the risks to speaking up are much smaller than the potential rewards, Edmonson says. “When you’re unwilling to take the risk of speaking up,” she says, “you’re not thinking about the potential upside and the rewards are ultimately much greater: we might make a great product, we might create a wonderful customer experience. We might save a life.”


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