Workplace Communication: When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up

The age-old adage ‘choose your battles wisely’ is a great rule to abide by. Many know what it means but rarely do people put it to practice. Many disagreements, feuds and altercations have erupted over the most nonsensical things as a result.

After so many years of using words to communicate, you’d think that the human race would have mastered effective communication by now. Sadly, that has not been the case. As words never accurately express the intent, it can’t hurt to take a few moments to ponder on whether the words (or actions) by a colleague is worth reacting to or not.

When faced with a potentially hurtful statement or situation, conflict can be averted by not being quick to anger and practicing a little less sensitivity. And it helps if you know when to chime in and when to remain silent altogether.

Speak up when…

…you have to correct someone

When a co-worker keeps describing the wrong statistics, information or processes at a meeting, it’s in the best interest of everyone that he or she be corrected. At the same time, you don’t want to come off as a condescending know-it-all. Avoid sounding authoritative by cushioning the correction with something positive. Say something along the lines of, “Congrats on a well-prepared presentation, but I feel that I should point out…”

…you have something to contribute

When you have an idea on how to improve the finances, marketing, policies, or any other aspect of your company, you need to say something instead of staying quiet. During meetings, the earlier you speak up, the better a participant you’ll be. If you decide to wait until everyone has contributed, you could end up comparing your suggestions to others, and start stressing about whether you are adding anything of value. Of course, when you open your mouth, you must be well-informed, well-prepared and on-point.

…you’re not feeling well

Health is wealth, especially at work. When you’re not feeling well, you’re not doing the company any favors by being there. Only when you’re in good health will you be able to do good work, so when you’re feeling under the weather, ask for the rest of the day off, or take some sick leave to recuperate.

…you see something criminal going on

If you see a co-worker violating company policies or applicable law, it would be a mistake to stay silent about it. It is advisable to let the higher-ups know what you know, as things going wrong can only get worse, and you could end up getting dragged into the whole mess despite being innocent. Don’t think that it’s none of your concern, because what affects the company affects you. Be aware and let higher authorities know about any illicit activity.

…you don’t understand an instruction or assignment

As an employee, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the assignments, responsibilities and projects to accomplish. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, you’ll never complete any task successfully. If you’re unsure on how to go about specific tasks and processes, ask for the instructions again. It’s better to be a fool for a minute than to be a fool for life.

…staying quiet leads to something bad

You may believe that keeping silent helps you avoid conflict, but silence is just as much as a form of communication as speaking. If you let a problem persist and don’t say anything, you are committing what Catholics call ‘the sin of omission.’ Think about the greater good and what would happen if you kept your thoughts to yourself. Though you can’t accurately predict the consequences, you should have an idea of how things will turn out by simply taking some time to evaluate. If you can imagine people blaming you for withholding information down the line, then it’s best if you say your peace.

Shut up when…

…you’re mad

When you let emotions get the best of you, you have a great chance of saying something you’ll regret. Lashing out when you’re angry can damage your relationship with colleagues, if not wreck your career aspirations altogether. Even when you’re right, and the other party is wrong, you won’t come out of the argument looking good if you react angrily. Even if you apologize, people won’t forget, and you can’t take back what’s already been said.

…when you’re sharing gossip

It can be tempting to just hop in and join your co-workers huddled in the cafeteria or restroom when they talk about a fellow employee, but before you partake in the chitchat, think of how you would feel like if you were the topic of their conversation. Little harmless chats can turn into toxic rumors very quickly, and you certainly don’t want to be part of that. Either stop the gossiping immediately or relay the information to your supervisor so that issues can be resolved as soon as possible.

…you’re about to complain

Complaining is inevitable. But when it becomes a habit, it can negatively affect not only you but also those around you. The boss gave you too much work. The air conditioner is set too high. Your teammates are inept. Unless you’re dishing out constructive criticisms, it’s best to keep your complaints to yourself. Remember: Nobody likes a whiner.

…somebody is offering a solution

Every so often at work, you can find yourself stuck in a rut and praying for a solution. When it comes to prayers, you should know that the answers can come from the least likely of places. So when someone comes up to you and offers a different way of doing things, shut up and listen. Suggestions should be judged on their merit, not on who provided them.

…when everyone has agreed, except you

When the group has a strong consensus to proceed with a decision you don’t agree with, keep your mouth shut if your point of disagreement is solely for your own self-interest and not everyone else’s. Put the collective good of the team first.

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