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5 ways to get heard at work

At a glance

  • Approximately half of all professionals are hesitant to speak their minds in the workplace, according to research shared by the Society for Human Resource Management.
  • Active listening, planning your remarks and touching base with colleagues before a meeting can help lay the groundwork for becoming a better communicator at work.
  • When speaking up isn’t encouraged, reach out for help. Your manager or HR professional should be able to provide support and guidance.
  • Need help building your communication skills? University of Phoenix supports its students and graduates in their careers, even after they complete their degrees. Learn more about our Career Services for Life® commitment!

While some people seem to fill conference rooms with their presence, easily inserting their point of view into business discussions, practicing effective communication skills in the workplace is simply not a trait everyone possesses.

According to research shared by the Society for Human Resource Management and performed by Quantum Workplace and Fierce Conversations, about half of professionals are reluctant to speak their minds at work. The study found that good communication leads to greater engagement at work, but fear or poor communication skills limit those effective conversations. 

If you’re among the people who struggle to communicate in the workplace, or even if you just want to raise your profile and be heard more in the office, here are some approaches to improve your communication skills.

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5 ways to boost your interpersonal communication skills at work

We all want to be heard in the workplace, but good communication requires being a good listener and an active participant. Workplace communication can often get lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day. Even worse, employees may lose sight of improving their communication skills or may take on the traits of a poor communicating colleague. Sometimes effective communication starts with listening and observing. When you want to be heard, this is how to get people’s attention.

1. Listen actively

Good listening skills are the cornerstone of effective communication. For most people, “good listening” means active listening.

Active listening is the practice of fully engaging with whomever is speaking. You pay close attention to their words, tone, expressions and body language as they speak, taking notes, and providing feedback in the form of responsive body language, facial expressions and occasional oral responses. Nodding when you agree with what’s being said; using facial expressions to appropriately show interest, surprise and amusement; and giving an occasional (but quiet) “yes” or “mm-hmm” so the speaker feels engaged can all help to increase your presence and visibility in the conversation.

Practicing active listening also primes others in the room to anticipate your contribution to the discussion, making it easier for you to chime in when the moment is right.

In my experience as a leader and presenter, I always appreciate active listeners in the room. I tend to look for them when I want to call on someone for additional perspective or feedback. Spotting active listeners at the table gives me confidence as a speaker that if I ask them for their take, I’ll encounter a vibrant response rather than a blank stare.

This is especially important in virtual meetings, where it can be difficult to see if others are engaged or checked out. On virtual platforms, active listening means having your camera on and showing the speaker that you’re engaged in all the ways described above.

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2. Read the room

Knowing when to communicate in a meeting can be tricky, so it’s important to consciously assess how the conversation is flowing, how others are feeling and what the expectations are for the format of the discussion.

In formal presentations, it can be inappropriate to chime in with comments until a Q&A break. In workshop meetings, there is typically a greater expectation that everyone will just speak up when they have something to say.

When in doubt, raise your hand (physically or virtually) and wait to be noticed. Even in large rooms, this old classroom tactic tends to work pretty well, as a raised hand is a universal sign of requesting attention.

Waiting for a break to chime in can be challenging, especially in lively discussions, so if you’re unsure whether to break in or wait for a pause in the dialogue, look at how others are handling it (and how that’s being received). In some workplace settings, people are expected to simply speak up — and even speak across each other — to drive a discussion forward, although most people would consider this rude in other situations.

If you’re in a meeting where interruptions happen frequently and nobody seems bothered by it, that can be a signal for you to do in kind. Just be wary if the only person interrupting others is the boss. That’s a sure sign of a power-based double standard. In that case, the rules of engagement don’t apply equally to everyone, and the old hand-raise is still a solid fallback.

In these moments, those active listening skills can really pay off, as you can use facial expressions and body language to indicate you’d like to speak. If you’ve been making eye contact and engaging in nonverbal communication throughout the discussion, you’ll find it easier to nonverbally show that you have something to say, and earn a break to make your point.

3. “Pre-wire” conversations

In the early years of my career, I frequently worked with client teams at a large computer company in Texas. I discovered there the concept of “pre-wiring” workplace communication.

The idea here is preparation. You want to have a good idea of what’s going to happen in a meeting. You also want to have a fair idea of how you’re going to accomplish what you want to accomplish or at least get your point heard by the right people. “Pre-wiring” means you talk to a few key people in advance of the meeting about what the goals are, what they’d like to see happen, and how they think the conversation will go. This practice allows for any contentious issues to surface well in advance of the meeting so participants can either resolve the contention between themselves beforehand or at least plan how they can address it during the meeting.

Pre-wiring also lets you share what you’d like to say in the meeting and get your colleagues’ feedback and suggestions to hone your points. In this way, you get the benefit of establishing allies around the table, which can bolster your confidence to speak. If possible, do this with at least one sympathetic senior leader who’ll be in the room, as they’ll be in a position to ensure you get a moment to speak your mind.

4. Plan your remarks

To build confidence in your office communication skills, particularly if you’re concerned about how your comments will be received, take a moment to gather your thoughts before you speak. If you’ve been taking notes, jot down a couple of key ideas or phrases you intend to include.

I recommend avoiding overly scripted comments because you want your remarks to fit the natural flow of the conversation, but it sometimes helps to tell the group that you’ve made a few notes and then overtly refer to them as you speak. This approach can be compelling in a meeting because it shows you’ve been actively listening, you’ve taken the time to organize your thoughts, and you aren’t just shooting from the hip.

I know I tend to lean in when someone in the room says, “I made a few notes while you were speaking.” It appeals to the vanity of the other person while sincerely framing the context of your comments.

5. Affirm your perspective

Even highly qualified communicators suffer from occasional impostor syndrome. I’ve worked with executives who have decades of experience behind them and still suffer from self-doubt in the workplace. (I daresay it can be a sign of healthy humility and self-awareness.) Before you go into a meeting, try taking a moment to reaffirm the value of your perspective and the expertise you bring.

Author and public speaking expert Allison Shapira suggests asking yourself, “Why me?”

“Answering this question helps you connect with a sense of purpose and builds your confidence,” Shapira writes in Harvard Business Review. “It reminds you that you’re speaking up not to show off but because you truly care about the subject. It reminds you that your credibility doesn’t come solely from your title or years of experience but can also come from your commitment and passion.”

No matter how many years of experience you have, it helps to go through this exercise. Passion and commitment are essential factors in business, and while you may or may not have more experience and immediate expertise than others in the room, you’re there because you’re qualified. Together with your sincere interest in the work and the purpose, that should be adequate bona fides to give voice to your ideas. Reminding yourself of who you are and why your perspective matters can help fuel your confidence to speak up.

When speaking up isn’t encouraged

As a professional in the world, your voice matters. If you’re unsure of yourself or uncertain how you’ll be received, the tips above can help. But if you really don’t feel that your voice or ideas will be welcomed at work, there may be a larger concern at play.

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If you’re comfortable speaking frankly with your direct manager, consider speaking honestly about your feelings and seeking advice or support.

If you’re not comfortable speaking with your manager, think about speaking with an HR professional to seek guidance and support. Many companies offer training and enablement for workers to help build their confidence in speaking and presenting — and if there’s really an issue in the culture that’s preventing you from communicating effectively, they may be able to help you address that as well.

Career resources at University of Phoenix

Want to improve your communication skills? University of Phoenix is dedicated to helping its students and graduates develop career relevant skills. Explore a variety of career-enhancing resources at UOPX, including:

  • Career Services for Life: Available to UOPX students and graduates, this offering comprises complimentary career coaching, including guidance on how to build a personal brand and write a resumé.
  • Free career resourcesBrowse a range of downloadable guides and templates to help you optimize your LinkedIn® profile, get ready for a job interview and write a resumé and cover letter.
  • Career With Confidence™ newsletterGet career insights every week via UOPX’s LinkedIn newsletter.

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Portrait of Robert Strohmeyer


Robert Strohmeyer is a serial entrepreneur and executive with more than 30 years of experience starting and running companies. He has served in leadership roles at three successful software startups over the past decade, and his writing on business and technology has appeared in such publications as Wired, PCWorld, Forbes, Executive Travel, Smart Business, Businessweek and many others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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