THE BLOG
01/29/2016 06:15 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

Speak Up! The Importance of Joining the Conversation and Asking for What You Want

Sharing ideas, jumping into debates, and asking for what you want professionally can be scary. But speaking up in these situations is so important, especially in fast-moving tech companies where decisions are often made quickly and opportunities are given to those who show eagerness.

I attribute much of my professional success to my willingness to speak up. I've seen some people thrive in their careers and others seemingly stagnate, and I have observed that much of this divergence is a result of communication styles rather than knowledge or work ethic. From my own experience and the observation of others, I see several areas where people should be making their voices heard at work.

Share your ideas and knowledge
Does this scene sound familiar? You're in a crowded meeting, and a well-structured presentation has gone off the rails with debates and arguments. Words are flying fast and the next thing you know, a major decision has been made by the people who were voicing their ideas. Maybe you had thoughts on the topic that you planned to write up in a carefully worded email after the fact, but they seem trivial now.

Making yourself heard in the heat of the discussion can be intimidating. In a fast-paced debate with big personalities, it can require interrupting or speaking over someone - or stopping someone from interrupting you. This is not in everyone's nature. But there is a reason that you are in that room: You have information, experience and opinions that can help shape decisions. This is the perfect scenario in which you should "fake it 'til you make it." If you fake confidence long enough, you will eventually build up real confidence. It's for the good of the company and the good of your career to make your voice heard in these situations.

Ask for what you want
I would estimate that 90 percent of the opportunities, challenges and progression that I've had in my career have been a direct result of asking for them. (And 5 percent might be from doing things without asking at all!) This isn't to say that nothing good happens if you don't ask - I've certainly given employees an opportunity without them asking for it - but asking for something improves your odds. For better or for worse, Deciders and Delegators will often choose the path of least resistance and select the person showing eagerness and enthusiasm to take on a new role or responsibility. And leaders are not mind readers, so they might not consider you for that next opportunity or career level if they don't know you're striving for it. There will be great managers who think through your career path without you advocating for it, but it's always a good idea - in all aspects of life - to advocate for yourself.

Self promote
You can be doing great work, but if no one knows about it you won't be recognized for it. And recognition is important not just for feel-good reasons, but also for advancing your career opportunities. Take this experience from early in my career: I had been working hard on a project for several months. Once day my manager's manager happened to walk by my office and popped in to say hello. He looked over my shoulder and asked what I was working on. When I explained it to him, he said, "This is great - I had no idea you were doing any of this."

I had felt that some of my peers were getting more recognition and opportunities than I was, but assumed it was because they were doing more important work. This was a pivotal moment for me in realizing that I really had to be managing the perception around my work, not just doing good work in a vacuum. Don't let your hard work be the metaphorical tree falling in the forest - make sure to be shouting "timber!" along with it.

Lift up others
We need new voices at the table, and we need strong collaboration and communication within our organizations. In order to reach these important goals, we need to support each other. And so my final advice on being heard is to help others get heard, too. Once you have found your voice in the conversation, use it to make room for others who are facing the same challenges you once did. Give credit to your peers, interrupt on behalf of someone who is quietly trying to get a point in and help all the voices get heard. The result is going to be a more diverse set of opinions and ideas, which we all know results in better decisions in the end. And it will also result in a support system of friends at work, which makes every day more enjoyable.