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Deborah Jane Willimott

Deborah Jane Willimott

July 12, 2015

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When to Speak Up…and Shut Up

Certain work situations have us itching to sound off instantly—especially when things get emotional, personal, or provocative. Business coach Keren Smedley of Experience Matters explains when to voice your feelings—and when biting your tongue is the smart option.

Your colleagues are dating and it’s against company policy.
ACTION: SHUT UP. Is it really a big problem? Smedley’s tip: Always question your motivation. “With office affairs, jealousy and point-scoring loom large and can create lasting enmity. If dating’s against company policy—well, mind your own business; it’s their risk to take. Only speak up if it starts hugely affecting her performance—and to her first—before meeting the boss together for a solution that suits your deadlines and her relationship.”

Your manager has never liked you, which she doesn’t bother to hide.
ACTION: SHUT UP…and patiently gather evidence. Don’t bad-mouth her to anyone or call her out (however tempted). Take pieces of your work she trashed to a trusted colleague for honest feedback and practice your confrontation speech. “Only then go to that manager,” says Smedley. “Ask what’s wrong with your performance that all your work seems so unacceptable. If she brushes you off, explain that you feel victimized. If she denies it again, present your prepped examples. If it gets personal, immediately go to HR.”

The creepy dude from Sales grabs your ass at the photocopier just about every day.
ACTION: SPEAK UP. Sure, he’ll be all “Oh—you’re just oversensitive.” “But if for one second you feel uncomfortable, it’s unacceptable,” states Smedley. “Even if he does it to everyone, even if he has a rep, even if you feel as if you are creating a fuss, immediately set your boundaries if it’s unwelcome. If he doesn’t respect them, inform him you’ll be taking it further.”

Your direct report is obviously suffering an emotional nightmare, and it’s beginning to affect her work.
ACTION: Ask one question…then SHUT UP. Resist the temptation to get it out of her—simply inquire: “Is everything okay and do you need anything from me?” then step back. “If she’s operating well enough and coping—don’t push,” says Smedley. “If and when the mask starts to slip it’s usually a cry for help, so ask (once) again, adding, “I don’t want to discipline you, but it’s my job that you do yours…so what do you need from me right now?” She’s not legally bound to explain her situation, and this strategy works well for both of you.”

Your boss continually takes the credit for work you’ve done.
ACTION: SPEAK UP…before this becomes a habit for them. But don’t go straight over their head to do so. “You never know what sort of relationship your boss has with their boss,” warns Smedley. “Limelight-stealing superiors are motivated by status, so by crafting a strategic speech that shows your boss they’ll gain greater cred by revealing your successes, too, it creates a template that hopefully they’ll continue to use.”