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Home  > Article

Speak Your Mind

By Jen Uscher

You're filled with visionary ideas about everything from streamlining your company's file system to expanding into international markets. Whatever your status within the company, you should learn how much space you have to share ideas before you inadvertently overstep your bounds.

 
A staff meeting is not the best place to debut a ground-breaking idea.
 

You're filled with visionary ideas about everything from streamlining your company's file system to expanding into international markets. But these ideas won't do you or your company any good unless you can find a way to make them heard. In the world of work, you have to speak up to get things done.

"The word 'vocation' comes from the root word of voice [vox], so when you don't feel like you have a voice in an organization, it's like you're not even there," says Judy Rosemarin, the president of Sense-Able Strategies Inc., a career management consulting firm in New York City. So, how can you offer ideas without being seen as a threat, or even worse, a joke?

Before you make yourself heard, try to listen and observe. It takes time to get settled in a new job, and sometimes even longer to feel comfortable offering revolutionary ideas. Learn the ropes first. During your initial months at a company, do more listening than talking. Along the way, ask plenty of questions to figure out which of your co-workers are most receptive to new ideas.

Whatever your status within the company, you should learn how much space you have to share ideas before you inadvertently overstep your bounds. Take the time to build alliances--you'll need people on your side to help you make a change.

Launch a Campaign
When you are trying to sell an idea, strategy is key. Do your homework, and let your ideas percolate for a while. "It's a bad idea to speak up at the flashpoint of inspiration or frustration," says Kathleen Ryan, co-author of The Courageous Messenger: How to Successfully Speak Up at Work. "Think about the point that you really want to convey. Usually the first thing that pops into your mind isn't the best thing to say."

A staff meeting is not the best place to debut a ground-breaking idea. Many companies use meetings to introduce ideas that people have already agreed upon--rather than as a forum for new suggestions. Presenting to a large group can increase the odds that someone will misunderstand your message.

Before you present your inspiration to the group, build support for your ideas among individuals. Pitch your idea to the friendliest people on your team first, and save the most difficult people for last. "In sales there's a long-standing rule; the only way to sell a committee is to sell each of the individuals on the committee first," says Eric Conradt, a sales engineer at Teradyne, a manufacturing company based in Massachusetts. "You need to sell important ideas the same way. That way you can test your opinion, allow it to evolve, and gain a consensus of support before you go public."

Make Your Pitch
Picking the right time and place for your pitch can make all the difference. Never approach someone who is in a bad mood or overwhelmed with work. Set up a meeting in advance, and choose a location that gets you away from distractions.

Once you have your co-worker's attention, phrase your opinion or idea in a way that will appeal to his or her needs. Emphasize how your idea serves the company's goals. Keep your message simple and direct by having a clear objective and offering concrete actions and solutions. If you find support for your idea, offer to take the lead on implementing changes.

Even if the conversation does not go exactly as planned, view it as an opportunity to learn and receive feedback. Remember that getting what you want is not the only measure of success when it comes to voicing your opinion. No matter how your co-workers react to your ideas, try to remain open and non-defensive. Make a point to listen carefully to their questions and objections.

In the end, it's almost always worthwhile to speak up if you think a situation in your workplace needs improvement. "There is a great deal of need for creativity and positive energy," says Ryan. "In good organizations, you will be appreciated for being willing to take risks." Besides, every time you speak up, you open the lines of communication with your colleagues and gain a greater understanding of where they are coming from. You also increase the likelihood that people will listen to your ideas next time.







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