Have you been told that you need to “speak up” more at work?
If you’re like most of the female corporate leaders I work with, the answer to that question is a big, resounding YES.
Being told you need to “speak up” more is super common feedback for corporate women – but it’s not particularly helpful.
That’s why I never tell my students to “speak up” at work.
Instead, I coach them to be heard.
All too often, ‘speaking up’ simply means adding more noise to the conversation.
But when you implement strategies that will actually help you be HEARD, you:
A) Ensure the leadership team actually hears you, and…
B) You build powerful, impactful relationships along the way.
In this episode of Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer, I am skipping the usual “speak up” rhetoric and diving straight into actionable advice that will help you have a real voice at the leadership table.
What You'll Learn:
- Why the feedback to “speak up” doesn’t actually help leaders be heard
- What being told to “speak up” actually means (hint: it’s a major red flag!)
- What trying (and failing) to “speak up” looks like in action
- 3 practical tips that will help you be heard at the leadership table
- Why having your voice heard is WAY more important than having all of the answers
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Ep #81: 5 Pieces of Career Advice You Should Avoid at All Costs
- Connect with me on LinkedIn
- Download Stacy’s 7-Step Promotion Roadmap
- Join the waitlist for my 6-week group coaching intensive, Executive Ahead of Time
Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacy Mayer, and super excited, as always, to be here with you again this week. So, I have been receiving a bunch of LinkedIn private messages as well as emails into my inbox about my podcast and the impact that it's been making on people who I have never even met in my life. People who have been listening to my podcast, implementing what I say and getting promotions and getting promoted into executive positions as a result. So, this is super exciting, and it just makes me feel so great about the work that I do. But it also made me think about something else.
One of the things that we tend to do as leaders is, we are very good at complimenting our team individually. So, you have somebody that does a really great job, and you send them a note and you say, 'thank you for this great work'. And something that I came up with several years ago. I was coaching a client and we were doing a full Leadership Practices Inventory 360 report for him; And one of the things that he received is that he wasn't very good at sharing the accomplishments of others. And he was like, 'yes, I am. I always tell people how great they are'. But what we realized he wasn't good at sharing that information with executive leadership. And so, I developed this concept, which is not really a concept that I developed, but it's called the 'Yelp review'. You've heard of Yelp.
Something that I coached him on - and I've since shared this information with so many other leaders, and it's been really incredibly valuable - is that instead of just telling the leader that they were 'really, really great' - turn it into a 'Yelp review'. So, it's one thing to tell somebody that they're really great and it's another thing to shout it from the rooftops. So, tell your executive leadership, let other people know the accomplishments of others on your team and how fantastic those results have been.
And now I'm going to turn this back on me. So, I've received these emails. I've received correspondence from people, and now I have an ask for you. Would you be willing to turn that information into a review? - something so that other people can actually hear what you have implemented and what you've accomplished as a result of my podcast. And one of the quickest, fastest, easiest ways that you can do that is by going on to Apple podcasts and leaving me a review. So, you can go to Stacey Mayer.com/iTunes, and you can find my Apple podcast, scroll to the bottom, and actually write a review for my podcast. So, this obviously helps other people see what has been so valuable in terms of my podcasts. It helps me at that next level, because not only are you telling me this information has been really valuable. And even if you haven't been specifically promoted, how have you used the information that I am teaching to advance?
And it also gives you an opportunity to really reflect and decide for yourself - how has this work been impacting you over the years? So, whether it has helped you get a promotion, maybe it's helped you build better relationships; maybe it's helped you take more time to spend with your family because you're able to focus and prioritize on what's more important at work so that you can think more strategically - you feel happier. So that then when you're with your family, you're not always in reaction mode to whatever is coming up at work. So, whatever that has been for you over the years of listening to my podcast, I would love it if you could turn it into the form of a review.
It's so impactful and this will help solidify my practice that I have for you, which is how can we help support other leaders, not just by telling them individually that they're great, but by spreading the message far and wide. So, a metaphorical 'Yelp review' for everybody who comes into your path that you want to share and exploit their accomplishments. Let's let people know what people are doing that's really, really great. So, thank you for that. I will so appreciate it. And I will also mention several of my reviews that you've heard on this podcast so that we can share that with more and more people. So, thank you again from the bottom of my heart. As a loyal listener, I am so, so, so, so grateful.
Speaking of ‘speaking up’ - in today's episode - I'm actually going back to last week's episode, episode number 81. I talked about five pieces of career advice that you've probably been given over the years that you should avoid at all costs. And in that episode, I was talking about the concept of speaking up. And I just I felt really strongly as I was delivering that podcast that it needed to be its own episode. And so, I'm following up this week to really unpack what that particular feedback is, and how you can actually use it to your advantage. So, this whole idea of speaking up and what that really means and how you can actually start to make some traction on it to advance your career.
So go back after this episode and listen to episode number 81. But essentially, what I was saying is that the traditional advice is that you need to speak up more. And this is super, super common for all of my leaders - is that they need to speak up more. It's something that they've been told before. And it's really interesting because when they share it with me, they're sort of like, 'yeah, I know. I need to speak up more - yeah, it's something I've tried or it's something I need to do, and I really need to do it'. And I was thinking about this because when I coach them, I never say the words you need to speak up more.
I coach them on 'You want to be heard'. You want other people in the leadership room to actually hear you. You want to be building relationships in a way that's very impactful. So, I try really hard in all of my coaching and also on this podcast not to use colloquial language like 'speak up', because I know that it actually really doesn't help. Hearing somebody tell you over and over and over and over and over again to 'speak up' and you're still not doing it; It adds more frustration to your life. It's sort of like telling you that you need to eat more vegetables if you want to lose weight or be healthier. And you're like, 'I know I need to do it'. And it just adds more guilt and shame to our to do list that we don't really need. And so instead, what I want to give you is very practical advice on how you can actually start being heard so that you can feel like you really have that voice at the leadership table, and not only feel, but you actually start to have that voice at the leadership table. So, the first thing I want you to realize is that when you're receiving this advice which says, 'speak up, speak up, speak up, speak up', don't ignore it. It's real.
Let's go back to the vegetable analogy. At some point you end up with high cholesterol and then you really get a kick in the butt, and you say, 'Okay fine, I need to eat more vegetables'. This is the kick in the butt. And then you meet some people that are able to start to implement the vegetables early on, even before they get high cholesterol. Those are the people that (now let's go back to the career) that are really owning their career all along the way - that are owning their career path. They're starting to get out of reaction mode and being much more proactive. And so that's what I want to challenge you to do. And the way that we can do that is to literally just take that 'speak up' advice. And you can't see my hands, but I'm turning it into a ball and I'm throwing it in the garbage. This is garbage advice. 'Speak up' is garbage. We don't need it. It's not helpful. But we can't ignore it. We can't and now here's the thing. If you are being told that you need to speak up, it means that they don't value you. This is a really big problem. One on one they do. That's why they're giving you this advice. They're like, 'Sarah, you're incredible. You're such an incredible leader. If only you would speak up more’ So, they value on a one-on-one level.
But what they're seeing is the executive team doesn't value you. The other leaders and the teams, your peers don't value your contribution. And this is a huge, huge problem. So, if you're receiving the 'speak up' advice, I really want you to understand that this is no longer negotiable. You can't continue doing what you're doing and expect to be able to make a bigger impact at your organization. You can't. You can't get there by not speaking up. So, we're taking the 'speak up' advice; We're throwing in the garbage can, but we're also not ignoring it.
And so, here's where the beauty comes in. We no longer take feedback at face value. So, this is becoming the executive ahead of time. This is you thinking for yourself - Really making proactive decisions about your career. So, we're not ignoring that. We're getting this advice, but we're going to do something about it in our own terms. So that person is telling us to 'speak up'. And now I want you to think back when you first started receiving this advice and you actually tried to act on it. What is it that you actually started to do? And I know this firsthand from my own personal experience with speaking up and also from my clients as well. So, here's a couple of scenarios of what this actually looks like in action if you're taking 'speak up' at face value. So, let's say that you are a more introverted personality type, and I don't just mean quiet; I mean that you are the type of person that likes to think through ideas, through reflection and contemplation. And then when you do speak up, you do in a way that is very formulated and thought out. That is the way that you like to communicate.
However, you have found yourself in a room full of more extroverted personality types where they think out loud and they actually communicate. And that's how they process their thoughts. So that's what I mean by those two different personality types. So, you have a room full of a very external voices. A lot of people who are talking and thinking through ideas - and you're quiet - not because you're quiet, but because you're processing - You're thinking through your ideas. So now you're given this information which is told 'speak up'. So, what do you try and do? There are all these loud voices in the room, and you try and interject yourself into it, and it feels unbelievably uncomfortable. It feels very masculine. It feels aggressive. It possibly comes off as aggressive, "Hey, listen to me, I'm over here. I'm in the room. Don't forget about me." It feels needy. It feels clingy. It feels awkward. They may or may not listen to you, but you haven't fully processed your thoughts. So, you feel very stupid sharing it right now because you don't have brilliant ideas, but because the process is wrong for you. So, then what do you do? You crawl back into a hole, and you say, 'okay, I'm not going to speak up. That doesn't work for me'. And I agree. I don't want you to keep speaking up in that way because you might get devalued. When they say whether or not the executive team values your presence in the room. So that's one of the scenarios that happens. We speak up and we try and match the energy in the room, but it doesn't feel good to us.
Another example of matching the energy in the room, as I've heard. So, one of the key traits of women, and this is what I think is so brilliant, is that we're able to see through a lot of the bullshit that's happening in the room. And so, you see people arguing about the wrong thing. You're an incredible strategic thinker. You're able to see that they're not focused on the correct problem, that they're spiraling out of control. And so, you don't want to get caught up in all that 'yuck' and just start arguing with them and add more fuel to the fire -so you keep quiet. And so, you think that your only option is in order to speak up is to just start yelling as well - get louder, yell and include yourself in that conversation. And then you try it once or twice and it feels terrible, and you never want to do it again.
So, this is what happens when we take the advice, 'speak up' at face value and we actually take it in and we're like, 'Okay, I'm going to speak up, I'm going to speak up and be just like them'. It's sort of like it reminds me of the eighties when - and this is actual leadership trainings that were given for women in the eighties and nineties - was how to speak more like a man. Lower your voice. Wear shoulder pads. Be one of the men in the room. No! This is not what we want to do. And so that's why I'm taking this advice 'speak up' and throwing in the garbage can. But we're not ignoring it. – so, what are we going to do instead?
We're going to focus on how we can actually be heard. We're taking that advice we're thinking about and we're saying, 'Okay, in essence, what does this advice mean'? It means that they don't - the executive team - doesn't value my participation in the room. Somebody has given me this gift by giving me this advice saying you have better ideas than you're participating. You're not participating. You're not sharing your high-level ideas. So, you need to 'speak up' more. So, they're sharing - they're giving you this brilliant advice. In that sense, they're looking out for you because they want you to have a voice at the leadership table.
So, we're going to kind of claim our voice in a very different way so that we can actually be heard. Now, before I get into the three-step process that I'm going to teach you today so that you can actually be heard at the table instead of just speaking up. I want to tell you another reason why you're probably not speaking up already. So, the first reason is that it doesn't feel good. You've tried it. You've tried that advice. It doesn't feel like you. It feels inauthentic. You're like, 'Oh, my God, I'd rather keep quiet than embarrass myself again; I'd rather keep quiet than entertain this awful energy that's happening in these rooms'. So that's one way.
But then the second way that I notice that a lot of my clients is they actually don't realize that it's a problem. And so that's why I said if somebody is giving you this advice - big red flag - make sure you actually do something about it. Because it means it's true. It’s something that somebody else has noticed. I have a beautiful, wonderful client who is an incredible, valuable contributor to her team and just everything at her organization. And she has told been told repeatedly from leaders that they actually didn't realize she was in the meeting. And I know some of this is because of Zoom and we're on like a different screen and nobody has their video camera on; But even before that, she would feel like they literally didn't know that that she was in the room. And then she started to have somebody say, 'oh, you were in that meeting?'.
It was interesting because when she brought it up to me, she didn't realize how much of a problem it was. She was like, 'yeah, it's just annoying', and so you see it as something that's annoying and not a problem. Because I think another thing that we do as women, as we devalue our emotions and so we sort of say, 'Well, I'm annoyed, but I'm annoyed at a lot of things. I'm annoyed at my messy house. I'm annoyed at my kids. I'm annoyed at my husband.' Whatever that might be. So, we get annoyed at things and so we devalue that annoyance. But I want you to empower yourself with that annoyance. If you are annoyed because people are constantly saying, 'oh, wait, you were in that meeting?' Or perhaps you got passed over for a promotion, I want you to take that advice and actually do something about it. Be annoyed. You have a right to be annoyed by this. This is terrible. You have so much value to bring to your organization and if they don't know that you're in the room, this is fricking crap. And you shouldn't even be at that meeting. If you don't have value at that meeting, take it off your calendar.
If you're going to go to the meeting, have value and actually support an input, give input into the conversation. That is what you're going to start doing - owning the fact that you have a voice at the table already. And now I'm going to give you three practical tips so that you can actually start to be heard at the leadership table. So even if you've never been given the 'speak up' advice, you can start implementing this right away, whatever it is that you feel like. If you feel like your voice isn't truly heard, then start implementing this right away and we're going to do this in three different ways.
We're going to do it before - by preparing before the meeting. We're going to be heard during the meeting; and we're going to focus on being heard after the meeting, So that's it, before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting. And I'm spelling it out like that so that you can really think about it in these three parts. So, what are you going to do before a meeting? You are going to - number one - own that you are willing to be heard in the meeting today. That you're not just going to be a ‘sit back’ participant - that you would actually like to partake in the conversation. You're planning to speak. And I think this is really, really, really important because it's how we show up to those meetings that makes such a huge difference.
And it can literally be the physicality. Even if you're on a Zoom call, you're leaning into the conversation. Because we're always very distracted. We're actually actively participating, and we've made that commitment to ourselves that we are going to share and partake in this meeting. And so, this could be as simple as a post-it note, which is 'Every meeting I'm going to be heard' or maybe just write 'Be heard' on a post-it note and put it on your laptop. So, it's the active commitment before a meeting to being heard. A few other simple techniques that you can start to do is - if you don't want to engage in that rowdy behavior - you can ask to go first. So that is something that really helps my leaders as they actually get on the agenda - much higher up on the agenda - so that they're not getting pushed to the end and their ideas forgotten about. So that's another example.
Another thing that you can do is you can actually prepare for, not necessarily, exactly, what it is that you're going to say. Because I don't want you to feel like you have to do 20 minutes of prep work before every single meeting because it's just not practical. We don't have that much time in our week, in our year, in our days - whatever that is - is to prepare really strongly before every single meeting. And so, this is just going to be like your common practice. I'd like you to really think about 'what do I want to accomplish in this meeting in terms of feeling or action?' You look at the agenda for the meeting and just really ask yourself 'if I could walk away from this meeting'(so this is more at an energetic level)' which is - phase one could be 'that they know I'm in the meeting'. That's your goal.
Phase two could be 'that I actually provide input on X, Y, Z'. Phase three means that I talk 50 percent of the time of the meeting. So, it's whatever that goal might be for you on an energetic level that 'I want to participate. I want to make sure that I interject whenever my SVP is speaking'. So, whatever that might be that you want to accomplish in that meeting. So that's all before the meeting - really understanding what it is that you want to accomplish, making the commitment to being heard in that meeting. And then perhaps if you can, get on the agenda a little bit sooner so that your voice can actually be included in a more organized way.
The second thing that you can start to do is inside of the meeting. So, you've done all this prep work before. Like I said, it shouldn't take a ton of time. It's more mental preparation and commitment. And then once you're actually in the meeting, I want you to remember -energetically - you don't have to match the energy of the rest of the room to be heard. And think about this from your own experience. Somebody speaking very, very loudly, and then you have this calm force come in that's actually in tone, it's much quieter, it's much calmer, speaks slower. So, matching the tone of the room actually allows your voice to not be heard. You're just sort of in this cacophony of voices. So, if you're somebody that doesn't want to be included because it's all kind of wild and crazy; then I want to encourage you to interject yourself in a different tone of voice - in your own tone of voice; but in just something that is actually counteracting the chaotic energy of the room. So, you might speak a little bit slower. You might raise your hands, 'wait a second, I think we've gotten off topic here. Can I remind and say something else?' So, whatever that might be, don't ever feel like you have to be included in the conversation in that sort of crazy, chaotic way, if that's not what you want.
The other piece of this puzzle of communicating during the meeting - is - I want to remind you that becoming an executive does not mean having all the answers. We get confused. We think that if we want to climb up the leadership chain, then we have to have more information.
No. The higher up we go, we get more and more resourced. Our ability to handle change, to go out and find those resources, to allow our voice to be heard, even if it feels a little bit uncomfortable, is actually way more important than having all of the answers. So, when you're in the meeting, if you are not, - quote unquote ‘speaking up' -because you don't have an answer, you don't have anything to add to the conversation, that's crap. That's not true. So, you've made this commitment to having your voice heard, what you're going to have to do is ask a question. Interject with a question. Interject with a 'have you thought about this'?' Interject with 'we tried something like this two years ago'. And it doesn't have to be negative Nancy, but it could be something about 'these are the things that we learned'. Interject with, 'oh my gosh, that's so great. That ties in really well to whatever somebody else was saying'. Interject with 'we've gone off topic'. Because you're not the only one who's thinking that - there's five or six other people in that meeting who are like, 'oh, my God, Thank God, she brought us back on track’. It is not necessarily the executive that called the meeting's responsibility to keep the meeting on track. If you've seen it happen, you've seen it go off course.
You have the ability to bring things back, to ask questions, to just stay involved and stay engaged. So that is your role as an executive leader anyway. And so, you want to make sure that you're continuously doing that inside of the meeting.
And now the third piece of the puzzle to being heard is after the meeting. So, if you raised a concern, if you asked a question - now you're going to follow up with individuals one on one. It doesn't even have to be a follow up about that specific question. Inside of my Executive Ahead of Time, six-week group coaching intensive program, which, by the way, we have the waitlist open - We open for enrollment in August. Just a few short weeks away before we open up enrollment. Make sure you get on that waitlist at executiveaheadoftime.com.
Inside of that program, I teach a process called 15-minute ally meetings. So, when we're having these follow up conversations with people, we're not necessarily having to talk about what happened in the meeting. But you can bring up something - "You know, when you brought at that point, it reminded me of something else. And I wanted to connect with you about that and explore that idea a little bit more." So, what you're starting to do is you're developing these relationships at a higher level - You're getting people to start thinking of you as an executive leader, as an executive ahead of time.
You're also thinking about yourself as an executive leader because you're being much more proactive. You're actually owning the value that you have at that table. You're making sure that your voice is actually heard. And you're listening to this advice that somebody gave you along the way that you, quote unquote, 'need to speak up more'. And I guarantee you, if you start doing what I've shared with you in this episode, if you start engaging in this way, people are going to take notice. You are going to start to feel better. You're going to feel like your voice actually matters. You're going to feel more engaged. You're going to feel like you're not wasting your time by attending these meetings all day and not participating. And you're going to see the results by getting promoted into senior executive leadership positions. You'll start to get tapped on the shoulder. You'll be the first 'thought of' whenever a promotion opportunity presents itself. So go out - instead of speaking up - I want you to actually commit with me that you're going to have your voice heard at the leadership table. You're going to claim your voice at the table and see, just see what results you start to get. And when you get those results, make sure you let me know or you let everybody know by putting a review on iTunes. Thank you so much for listening today. And I'll see you next week. Bye.
About Your Host
Hi! I'm Stacy Mayer, a Certified Executive Coach and Promotion Strategist on a mission to bring more diversity to the leadership table by getting 1000 underrepresented corporate managers promoted into senior executive positions each year worldwide.
I help undervalued executives scale to the C-Suite using repositioning strategies that build your confidence and visibility, so you can earn the recognition and support you need from key stakeholders while embodying your unique leadership style.
My podcast “Women Changing Leadership with Stacy Mayer” tackles topics like executive communication, getting more respect in the workplace from challenging bosses and team members, and avoiding the common mistakes that sabotage career advancement.