Our CEO, Jessica Chen, was recently interviewed by an organization based in Asia. One of the questions that came up was, “Why is it so difficult to speak up to a manager or a supervisor?” After that question surfaced, many other participants chimed in, stating that this was something they struggled with too.


Having grown up in a very traditional Asian household, Jessica knew exactly what they meant; the idea of respect for authority and harmony was prevalent in her upbringing as well. In her answer to the question, Jessica called on her experience growing up, fluctuating between an eastern and western world.


Her response was: it’s completely normal to feel uneasy about speaking up to higher-ups, because frankly, as Asians, it’s not natural to think that we might have more insight than someone who has more experience than us. In addition, we might not feel comfortable speaking up because we also don’t want to break that mentality of “keeping the peace” – in other words, we don’t want to rock the boat. Sometimes, it’s just easier to let things be.


However, the western parts of us know that speaking up is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s one way we can actually gain respect from other people. The trick is to do it skillfully, without seeming disrespectful.


But how do you accomplish that?


First, you have to take the fear out of speaking up – and you do so by putting yourself in your manager’s or supervisor’s shoes. If someone younger than you had a great idea or thought, what would make you receptive to it?

The answer lies in your approach. Instead of just saying what’s on your mind, which may be your initial reaction, start with the why: why does your idea benefit your manager or the greater team? You should only speak your thoughts after you’ve provided insight as to why they should listen.


If you follow this framework, it not only makes your voice a lot less threatening, but also bolsters it by explicitly outlining how your idea benefits others, and just yourself.


Another thing to pay attention to: your tone. If you’re going to speak up, don’t upspeak. Upspeak is when you end your sentence with a higher tone, like you’re asking a question instead of stating a point – doing so makes you seem uncertain, so keep that in mind.


So – what do you think? Do you have any other question on how you can communicate with conviction? Let us know by commenting your experiences below – looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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