Speak Now

Speaking up at work can feel like facing down Godzilla. Despite this, there are cases where not speaking up can be the difference between success and failure. So how does an employee balance between remaining respectful and being bold? And how can an employer understand when to graciously take criticism and when to turn it away? 

It comes down to a few pieces of advice for both employers and employees, and at the core of all that, the idea that respecting one another as equals despite the workplace hierarchy can bring a lot of good to your community. 


For an employee, the idea of criticizing your employer or even just someone higher up in the managerial structure, can cause incredible anxiety. And you’ve probably seen people who spoke up in the wrong way or at the wrong time only to face disastrous consequences. 

However, not speaking up will keep you from contributing your unique perspectives and talents. It will undermine your performance and, in the end, only prevent you from progressing. 

But how do you know when to speak up? Here’s a few suggestions to consider: 

  1. Be aware of your timing and your audience: If you’ve been asked for ideas, in public or private, then speak up- that is an appropriate forum to share. However remember: no one likes being corrected in front of others, particularly when it’s a critique about their job, and even more so when they’re your employer. Most criticisms are best expressed in private.
  2. Watch your phrasing: How you say something is just as important as what you have to say. Remember that the person you are talking to, no matter how they’ve annoyed you, is still a human being with feelings like yours. Some great suggestions can be found here, including using “I” language can keep your criticism from sounding like a personal attack. Saying “I want to try doing things this way” is much more likely to find a positive reception than “The way you do things doesn’t work.” 
  3. Keep the good in sight: Compliments and positive feedback are vital to healthy communication. If you see someone doing something you appreciate, be sure to mention it. Let your fellow employees see that they are appreciated. 


All the tips above apply to employers as well when sharing criticisms with coworkers and employees. However, there is another side that you must deal with. In a traditional workplace, employers speak and employees listen; however, many businesses are moving away from that model in an attempt to draw on the abilities and perspectives of all their employees rather than a select few. This means that, even though traditionally you may be someone’s “superior,” in reality and as you interact with them, you are much more like equals. Yet in the hierarchy, you do have more authority and weight than a person who may be offering a critique.    

That doesn’t mean that their critiques aren’t valuable. Your employees have a different perspective. They may have seen something you have not. But how do you tell the good criticism from the bad? How do you take what you need to improve without feeling down on yourself, and without rejecting criticism altogether?

  1. Keep yourself mentally healthy: Be in touch with yourself and take care of your mental health. Learn to take criticism while maintaining your self-esteem. If you can master this in your day-to-day life, then receiving criticism at work will be much easier
  2. Take what is good and leave the rest: Not everyone is good at giving criticism. Yet their feedback can still be valuable. Before reacting, take time to sit with and sort through their words. Ask for advice from people you trust. It may be that none of what they said is valuable–or maybe you will find a nugget of truth within that you can use to become better. 
  3. Remember that everyone is human: We’ve all lost control and hurt or offended someone before. We’ve also all forgiven someone for hurting us. Understanding, deep within yourself, that those you work with or supervise are people just like you and those you love is invaluable. Perhaps they had a moment of anger. Perhaps outside stresses are causing them to lose control. Whatever it may be, just think about how you’d like to be treated in that situation.  


Giving and receiving negative feedback is one of the most challenging aspects of communication, and it only becomes more difficult when the dynamic between employee and employer is mixed in. Understanding both how to give and take criticism is a vital professional and personal skill. It is as important for employees to speak up as it is for employers to create an environment where individuals feel safe voicing their concerns. 

In the end, there is one more strategy that you can use in any time or place: React and respond with empathy, with kindness, and with grace, and you cannot go wrong. 


Babauta, Leo. “How to Accept Criticism With Grace and Appreciation.” Zen Habits.

Boogaard, Kat. “Why is speaking up at work important?” Atlassian, 15 November 2018.

Davenport, Dan. “Want to Stand Out at Work? Speak Up!” CareerAttraction.com.

Llopis, Glenn. “6 Reasons Employees Must Speak Up to Thrive at Work.” Forbes, 19 March 2012.


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