Building Confidence and Conquering the Fear of Speaking Up


If you’ve ever wanted to make a suggestion at a meeting or bring up a matter that bothered you to a supervisor, you may have held it back. You’re far from alone in this, as fear of speaking up is incredibly common, but especially so for women. Women have been socialized not to be too loud or assertive, and do their best to placate everyone in the room, but there can also be major consequences regardless of whether you keep your ideas to yourself or speak up.

Getting over the fear of speaking up requires confidence. It also requires determining the precise cause of why you’re afraid to give input or discuss issues in the workplace that are bothering you.

Identifying Why You Are Afraid of Speaking Up

Depending on the situation, you might have a specific reason as to why you’re afraid to share your ideas, collaborate more, or try to address a problem. Figuring out the exact reason why you’re afraid is the best way to determine the best way to deal with those situations.

If you’re afraid to share your ideas at meetings, is it because you’re afraid they won’t like your suggestions and think that you’re incompetent for making them? Or, that you’re afraid of being talked over, with the possibility that someone else will steal your idea while you won’t get credit? Even in the most supportive workplaces that have open door policies, these are reasonable fears to have that frequently hold women back from fully contributing.

In workplaces that have a palpable top-down hierarchy, you might not feel keen on speaking up because you’re aware that your fate lies in a few managers’ hands and don’t think it’s worth the risk to rock the boat. These types of hierarchies foster a culture of fear which extends beyond the individual level.

Making Yourself Aware of the Consequences If You Don’t Speak Up

Once you’ve identified the chief cause of your fear of speaking up, you need to make yourself aware of the possible outcomes. What is the worst that could happen if you say something– or don’t?

Use your best judgment. If you have a co-worker who’s stolen your ideas in the past and they’re at that meeting, you might have a valid reason for staying quiet. But if you have just one co-worker or project leader you’ve worked well with in the past who was in the room, you can start with sharing your ideas there then build your way up to speaking to the whole room once you’ve asserted that your ideas are yours. But if the worst that could happen is that you fear you’ll look stupid in front of the room because they won’t like your idea, remember that it’s not an audition where you only have one chance to make an impression! You’re not the first person to make a suggestion at a meeting that other people didn’t like, and definitely won’t be the last. The point of meetings is to trade ideas and suggestions, get equal input, and brainstorm.

Staying silent can also mean inadvertently agreeing with inefficient management styles that encourage silence. When teams are competing internally for the same goal, such as seeing which sales team territory can reach a goal first, this can stifle collaboration and innovation. But if you speak up and suggest that the teams focus on one external goal, such as exceeding last quarter’s sales together, you can push the organization in the right direction.

For more pressing issues, such as wanting to address toxic culture and harassment, you need to put more thought into the consequences of not speaking up. If you don’t say something about a co-worker who’s making you or others feel unsafe, how soon would it be before they start harassing people outside the workplace? You could be facing the very real fear of no longer having a job or being shafted within the organization, especially if it’s a top-down hierarchy-driven one. Would you place your dignity over having a job, and want to set an example for other women who have been held back by fear?

Fear hampers growth. Speaking up can be scary, but staying quiet keeps things even scarier.

FREE Webinar on November 10 at 1pm ET:
The Building Blocks of Confidence
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IAW Member Resource:
The Leadership Lab – Afraid to Speak Up? Move the Needle from Self Doubt to Self Assurance
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