How to Make Your Voice Heard at Work

Early-career professionals can promote their problem-solving ideas

By Kyra Sutton November 4, 2019
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​Early in my career, one of the things I struggled with most was finding my voice at work. 

To have a "voice" at work means you share meaningful ideas that help some entity (the team or the whole organization) move forward on an initiative, solve a problem or brainstorm new ideas.

I wasn't alone. Most employers struggle to find recent college graduates with soft skills such as public speaking or managing up.

What can you do as a new professional to ensure your voice is heard at work? Here are five things you can try:

1. Offer a solution. 

Problem-solving is one of the top traits every employee should have. If you can communicate your ideas in the following manner, you've just launched an initiative you can lead:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Implement the solution.
  • Evaluate.

Where do you start? Spend time with leaders and listen for problems that are long-standing or that are stopping the organization from moving forward on a critical initiative. Next, come up with solutions. Write a problem-solution statement (i.e., where are we now, what do we need to solve and how). Trust me, your voice will be heard, and you will also build trust and credibility. The following steps will help you implement and evaluate your solution. 

2. Get a sponsor. 

A sponsor is a person who brings attention to the ideas and solutions you want to share with a broader audience. Sponsors usually know lots of people and understand how to get things done in the organization.

For instance, they can help you get added to the agenda of an important meeting where you can share ideas with a captive audience. Remember, having a voice means others must hear it.

3. Host a lunch-and-learn event. 

Sometimes it's not that people disagree with your voice; more often, they are uninformed about your perspective. Many organizations have brown-bag lunch-and-learn events where employees share ideas about initiatives that will push the organization forward. Work with your manager and figure out a way to organize such an event. Your manager can help you brainstorm who to invite, location (e.g., cafeteria, conference room) and the ideal day to host the event (it probably shouldn't be held during the end of a quarter or a new product launch).

Finally, avoid the phrase "I think" when you are presenting ideas and recommendations. That phrase undermines your credibility. Any recommendations you share should be based on research, data analysis, survey results, focus group findings, exit interviews and other reliable sources.

4. Speak up at meetings. 

Inevitably, you will attend meetings at work. Meetings are an excellent way to build credibility and make sure your voice is heard. Meetings are opportunities to ask questions that will push the conversation about a problem forward, ideally toward a solution. If you have ideas about building efficiencies at work, speak up during meetings. Organizations appreciate employee suggestions that ultimately improve productivity.

5. Choose your job wisely. 

The most effective way to ensure your voice is heard at work is to choose entry-level roles whose responsibilities and duties include exercising influence on a regular basis. For example, consultants partner with organizations and help them identify problems and implement solutions.

From a practical perspective, use the search terms "exercise influence" and "entry level" to find these kinds of roles in search engines like LinkedIn and Indeed.

Early in your career, your most important goal is to deliver results. Get into the habit of finding opportunities to share your perspective. Initially, it may feel uncomfortable, but making your voice heard is a skill that will prepare you for more-complex roles, including leadership opportunities.

Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., where she teaches courses in training and development, as well as in staffing and managing the 21st century workforce. She also has served in lead HR roles at Pitney Bowes and Assurant.

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