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I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com
The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
One: Clarify Your Thoughts
When you are concerned that something happening at work isn’t right, isn’t smart or isn’t ethical, tell someone your objections or write them down. Tell the cat or anyone. Just talk through the argument so that it gets out of your brain.
Practice sharing your thoughts, especially your visceral reactions, rather than swallowing them. This is a baby step.
Later you will articulate your argument for someone (even your cat), and then you will share it very soon afterward with the person who needs to hear your argument the most — the person who can do something about it.
Two: Keep Plan B in Mind
Know what you would do, very specifically, if you left the job you have now. Know which other opportunities you would pursue and keep tabs on organizations who could be clients or employers if your current gig vanished. That is a huge mojo-builder and it will give you confidence to speak up when that’s the right thing to do.
Three: Communicate with the Right Person, or No One
Make it a personal rule that when something bugs you at work, you don’t say anything to anyone about it before you talk to the person who can change it. Don’t allow yourself to kvetch and whine to your co-workers about something your boss did or said, for instance.
Talk to your boss about it instead. Learn how to say “Can we talk for a second? I am confused about something.”
Learn how to lay out your thoughts. The gross national product of every country would be higher than it is if we talked directly to one another about our concerns at work, instead of telling our co-workers and otherwise keeping quiet.
Four: Require Your Colleagues to Adopt Habit Three
When your colleagues complain to you, gently tell them that they’re barking up the wrong tree. Tell them to talk to someone who can do something about the problem.
Five: Commit to Speak Up
Make a list of the five things you most want to see changed in your work situation. They could be logjams, stupid policies, bad decisions about to be made or already made, or just something that annoys you and that should be addressed and hasn’t been.
Now commit to broaching each of these five topics with the most appropriate person in the next thirty days, no matter what.
Six: Name the Elephant
Take a step and say something that needs to be said in your next staff meeting. There is an elephant in the room and your job is to name it. Now that you’ve read this column, you have no excuse. You are on the high dive. Looking down at the water is scary. Once you jump, you’re fine. So jump!
Seven: Talk about Fear and Trust
Talk about fear and trust at work. Bring them up as topics. People around you at work are terrified on a regular basis, and no one is talking about it. You can, though!