Learning How to Speak Up

In daily conversations, I typically find myself in the role of a listener who opts to not speak up about her personal opinions.

For me, taking on this role was a matter of either a). being aware of how important listening is in daily interactions or b). not knowing enough about a topic to feel a real need to contribute an opinion.

I don’t think that this is a bad thing in the least.

What has been bad are those moments when silence feels less natural and more like a deliberate choice stemming from my anxiety. Those are the instances where I’m most conscious about how well or how poorly my words may come across to others. Those are also the instances where I get nervous about being judged for what I share.

At my most self-conscious, I have used “quiet” as a security blanket.

With silence, I reason, people won’t know what I’m thinking. If they don’t know what I’m thinking, then they have no basis to judge me. Right?

Unfortunately, putting up that wall has become an obstacle in many of my interactions. I was once told that no matter how genuinely interested I am in what a person has to say, my silence makes me come across as snobby and disinterested.

While it has been a bit of a process, I’m slowly but surely getting to a place where I feel more confident about owning my ideas and expressing them. In learning how to speak up, I’ve received the following words of advice that serve as constant and important reminders for me.

You don’t have to be an expert in a subject to participate in a conversation about it.

In fact, it’s fine to be upfront about what you don’t know. That, in and of itself, becomes a good way to direct the conversation. In my experience, being with the right kind of people who aren’t quick to judge always makes for intriguing discussions.

Talking is a really good way of fleshing out the ideas that you haven’t yet fully formed in your mind.

Thinking aloud with other people can be a method of clarifying your ideas. Those conversations often allow you to glean an outsider’s perspective that in turn sheds light on your own.

If, like me, you’re nervous about being judged for your ideas, just remember that talking in a group usually means that you’re collaborating with others, not competing. As long as you’re willing to listen to what others have to say, then they should be willing to do the same for you.

Sharing your ideas is way of demonstrating that you’re listening.

Even if, in your mind, you feel engaged with a topic of conversation, people can’t see what’s going on in your head. Also remember that contributing even what you think is a trivial comment may be valuable in the eyes of the person with whom you’re speaking.

People will typically let go of what was said once a conversation has passed.

This isn’t true for all people and in all cases. I, for example, have a habit of replaying and overanalyzing conversations.

I realized that this tendency usually stems from the regret that I feel over what I didn’t say.

So, know that if you have an idea, then those everyday, fleeting conversations are times when you can allow yourself to feel safe about saying your piece.

There is a difference between questioning your ideas and questioning yourself.

For me, it’s essential to know the difference and how it may affect you.

The former: Completely natural. I like talking to those who often cause me to take a step back and re-evaluate my ideas and opinions.

The latter, on the other hand, is a bit more of a red flag. I’ve experienced moments where being “wrong” about something has led me to equate that one idea with an aspect of who I am fundamentally.

Once I latch onto that notion, I admit that I choose to remain silent out of fear of once again being told that I’m wrong.

In reality, and as I’m learning, being wrong is something that I experience all the time and where I’ve had to exercise a lot more objectivity.

Ultimately, speaking up usually entails a welcome reminder that I am not perfect and am in no way expected to be. Only in realizing this can my ideas and opinions evolve and grow from what I learn.


Featured Image: Howard Lake

Jocelyn Lim