Having the confidence to get your voice heard at work

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK
29 October 2019
Next review due October 2022

Do you ever get the feeling that the only way to be really seen at work is to make your voice heard? Whether it’s contributing to meetings, delivering a presentation, or even chit-chatting in the open-plan office – the modern workplace is often designed for constant social interaction.

This works wonders for those of us who are naturally a bit more ‘out-there’. But, the challenge comes when being out there conflicts with our comfort zone. How do we simultaneously bring our real-self to work and get noticed, when our real-self doesn’t fit the norms of the workplace in the first place?

Why is speaking up harder for some people?

Humans are naturally social creatures, with an inherent desire to belong and to build connections. For some of us this desire is stronger than for others, depending on where we sit on the extraversion to introversion scale. Typically, people that sit on the extraverted end tend to behave in ways that attract social attention, because they are hard-wired to find this rewarding. This makes them more likely to be outspoken and enjoy socially stimulating environments like noisy offices and social environments.

For introverts, social interaction is less rewarding. They may speak up less because they don’t have as much of an inherent desire to gain social attention. Instead, their preferred style might be to think and reflect on the conversation after it happened. But, this can mean that they find it harder to make their voice heard during meetings.

This difference is why extraverts might find it easy to go from one meeting to another without stopping for breath, as they enjoy these social interactions. On the other hand, introverts might find constant social interaction over-stimulating, preferring instead to work and recharge in a quieter space – although not necessarily by themselves. Katie Lansley, Head of Clinical Leadership and Engagement at Bupa UK, agrees, while pointing out that our behaviour may also be shaped through our experiences at work.

“You may be a natural extrovert who has previously been reprimanded or ridiculed for sharing your ideas – which would lead you to have less confidence in the future. Alternatively, a natural introvert may be part of a team with a high level of psychological safety, and so they feel confident in being heard.”

Interestingly, research shows that most of us are actually ambiverts, which means that we have both introvert and extravert characteristics. This has advantages for the workplace, where we can dial up characteristics for certain situations – like speaking up and presenting, despite it not being in our comfort zone.

Skills and training to boost your self-confidence at work

While it’s unlikely that we can completely change our personality, we can gain skills to move along the scale and be more confident in the appropriate circumstances. And the more we give things a go, the more we learn and grow through experience.

However, research shows that introverts can miss out on leadership opportunities because they think they will find it more stressful than it actually is, or because they lack the self-belief. In fact, introverts have many great leadership qualities, such as good active listening skills and problem solving.

Katie, who has run leadership development courses, is also keen to reflect on internal confidence. You may have heard the term ‘imposter syndrome’, which has been used to describe not feeling good enough for your job and doubting your credentials. It can leave us questioning the value of what we have to say.

“Imposter syndrome affects everyone, from frontline to CEOs. We all feel like someone is going to find out that we don’t know what we are doing. While there is no course which is going to completely help you overcome this, you can use the teams around you to help you achieve a true reflection of the competent, confident, individual you are at work.”

And, there are a lot of tools at our disposal which Katie sees as helpful in addressing imposter syndrome. These include gathering feedback from colleagues, starting a daily reflection journal to log your successes and personal insights, or asking someone you respect to mentor you.

Tips for making your voice heard without compromising on your personality

Setting yourself a small, specific goal can also be a good starting point in helping to make your voice heard. “Think about a small step that you could make and be really pinpointed about what success would look like when achieved,” says Katie. “For example, it could be something like: ‘In the next team meeting I will share some positive feedback’ – this means you can prepare what you would like to say and when, to give yourself the most confidence in speaking up.” Starting small also means you can build on it the next time round.

“Combine this with a reflection journal where you record how you felt before, during and after. Then, importantly, reward yourself for achieving these goals and let others know so that they can recognise your successes.”

Learning from our experiences can also help us to stay positive, as we can draw on our past successes when we face the next challenge.

Here are some other tips that might help to get your voice heard at work.

  • Use movement to signal you want to talk – whether that’s leaning forwards at the moment you want to speak or putting you pen down sharply.
  • Make different modes of communication work for you. Still have something you want to say afterward a meeting? Send an email, or speak to the person one on one rather than in front of the whole group.
  • Have self-belief in your ideas. Sharing your ideas with conviction means that your good idea will get noticed, rather than it falling flat.
  • Determine the environment in which you are over-stimulated. If you are already feeling worn out from the noisy open office environment, the chances that you will speak up in that crucial meeting might be decreased. Perhaps you need to work in a quieter location to recharge before heading into the meeting.
  • If you’re delivering a presentation and you are nervous, try some deep breathing exercises or mindfulness beforehand to calm the jitters.

Bouncing back after a set back at work

Not everything goes to plan. So how do we bounce back if we have a bad experience at work, so that it doesn’t impact on our self-confidence and desire to be heard in future? While Katie is sympathetic to the negative impact that knock backs can have, she also stresses the need to be “kind to ourselves” in such situations, which is important for our mental health.

“Recognise that it is OK to be affected by that experience, and do not beat yourself up for not ‘bouncing back’ quickly. And, if you can also anticipate what you think might happen to you mentally/physically in a certain situation, then you can prepare actions/phrases to support yourself through the situation.

“It can also help to build a support system around you, which you can trust and lean on,” she adds.

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Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lauren Gordon
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK

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    • 5 myths about introverts and extroverts by Adam Grant. Quiet Revolution., last reviewed October 2019
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    • Spark A, Stansmore T, O’Connor P. The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: the role of forecasted affect. Pers. Individ. Differ 2018; 121: 84-88.

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