We are a vocal generation and have been encouraged to express ourselves and share our viewpoints. This freedom of speech is empowering for sure, and I’m a big fan of letting opinions be known, especially at work. However, in our pursuit to have a say, we sometimes lose sight of the power of perfectly timed communication.
My college friend, Katrina, didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut and quit a job she loved. Katrina didn’t agree with some feedback from her boss and when asked if she had any questions, she answered, “Seems like I’m not a good fit here anymore and I should leave.” I knew how much she enjoyed her work, so I later asked why she resigned when that clearly wasn’t her manager’s intent. Katrina’s response was all too common — she just didn’t know what to say and said the wrong thing.
Do you keep quiet when you should?
Before you answer, let’s clarify:
1) Knowing when to shut up, and actually doing it, are not the same. Many people have the emotional radar to detect the need for silence, but lack the self-control.
2) Being a good listener is different from keeping quiet. While listening is a valuable skill that involves hearing someone else out, being quiet is about hearing your inner self.
Here are the five occasions at work when you should do yourself a favor and just shut up:
1. You don’t have all the facts.
There’s a myth that everybody should be ready to talk on the fly. While you may have an opinion, it’s dangerous to open your mouth when you don’t have all the facts. Not only can you damage your credibility, but you can also contribute to gossip or misinformation. What if you are asked to give input, but you don’t have the full story? The best response is to offer a brief, caveated point-of-view and promise to follow up later.
2. You’re too upset to be rational.
Speaking out of emotion can be harmful on any occasion. In the workplace it can cost you your job and that’s exactly what happened to my girl pal Veronica. Veronica’s co-worker sent an email accusing her of dropping the ball in an important process – something Veronica didn’t feel was her job. After several messages had been exchanged, each more scathing than the last, Veronica decided to take the conversation offline. She stormed over to her co-worker’s desk and told him where he could “put his process.” Their supervisor’s office door was open a few steps away, and she was left with no choice but to fire Veronica. It’s been a couple of years and Veronica can now make light of it. She realizes she wasn’t thinking rationally and the emotions she followed weren’t the right ones.
3. Someone you trust urges you to be quiet.
If you haven’t yet surrounded yourself with people who can tell you when to chill, find that crew soon. The benefit of having relationships like this is they will catch you before you do something you might regret. Even if you feel justified, have the facts, and are unemotional, if mentors or trusted advisors encourage you to be quiet — just for a while — believe them. Sometimes they may have an insight you don’t have yet, and they’re stopping you from making a mistake. Other times, they may not know more at all about the situation, but see or sense something in your potential response (a character issue, an attitude, a tone) that needs to be curbed.
4. Your gut says so.
Your inner voice is one of the best checks when you’re unsure. It’s a good idea always to pause before you speak. I haven’t mastered this, but I try my best to wait even just a few seconds to give my head, heart and mouth time to sync. I’ve learned to view silence not as weakness, but as self-awareness.
5. The point you want to make has already been expressed.
Ever been in a meeting and someone repeats what’s already been said? Of course you have! We’ve all been there and felt slightly annoyed about the time wasted on redundancy. If someone else has already made a point and it’s not being disputed, there’s no reason for you to say it again. Don’t talk just to hear yourself speak. Save your breath and everyone’s time.
Being articulate and expressive are indispensable professional skills, and everyone wants to be heard. For maximum gravitas, practice high emotional intelligence and selective silence. Your career will grow, along with respect for your input and instincts.
Natasha Miller Williams is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Nielsen. Connect with her on LinkedIn at: https://www.Linkedin.com/in/natashamillerwilliams.