When Should I Speak Up? / by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

As a recent college graduate in my first job I wonder how I can know how much to assert my opinions or take a back seat? How much is too much opinion, and how much is too little?


Hi, Beth:

That’s a great question. It’s always tough to know when to assert yourself, but particularly when you’re new to working in general and to a particular workplace. Some of the answer comes from the size of your organization and the nature of its culture. If you’re working in a small entrepreneurial environment it should be easier to speak up because of a looser structure. In general, I’d suggest that you listen more than you speak during the first few months, and when you are venturing into an area where you lack confidence or specific experience that you couch your query or contribution in language along the lines of, “Have we thought about x, y or z” which turns your thought into a suggestion rather than a statement. You can also be charmingly self-deprecating by saying something like “This may be a stupid question, but…” I cannot tell you the number of times throughout my career where I’ve asked that kind of question and sensed an immediate sigh of relief throughout the room because others were also confused and too intimidated to ask. In my experience, people (bosses and peers) love to demonstrate mastery and knowledge and rarely mind explaining things to genuinely curious employees – it can be a sign of someone who’s committed to the company and a desire to become a more full-fledged participant.

If you’re a junior person in a big, structured company, in a large meeting and unsure of your expertise or value, rather than interrupting the course of conversation, I’d encourage you to follow up in a one-on-one after the meeting with whomever you think can help you understand the dynamic of what was going on, or whom you think might most welcome your fresh contribution.

But don't over-worry that it might be outside the scope of your job to speak out: if you think your idea will help improve how your company functions, be assured that bosses want their employees to contribute to the organization's success.

Finally, it may be that someone else in the organization would be better heard on a particular subject. If you think that’s the case, have a conversation about whatever is on your mind with that person and get the benefit of their thinking. If they are in agreement, ask if they’d be willing to put forth your proposal.

Good luck! Anne

Please send your questions to askanne@annekreamer.com.