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Nine Questions to Decide When to Practice Speaking Up

Nine Questions to Decide When to Practice Speaking Up

Should you always practice speaking up in a challenging conversation, such as saying no, giving negative feedback, or making a request? While rehearsing can be extremely useful for some people and in some situations, it can be a significant barrier in others.

The dangers of practicing before speaking up include giving up too soon, not speaking up at all, not connecting emotionally with who you are talking to, forgetting what you wanted to say, missing out on important information, and sounding robotic.

Here are nine questions to help you decide if practicing ahead of asserting yourself is helpful or not for a given situation.

[Related: Five Questions that Could Help Save Your Startup from COVID-19]

Commitment: How committed are you to speak up?

If you are not fully committed to speak up, focus on what will increase your chances of taking action. For some people that means rehearsing more, and for others it means improvising.

You can also increase your personal commitment by sharing it with someone that can hold you accountable.

Complexity: How complicated is the message?

More complicated messages, such as when you ask for a raise or an interview, require more practice. Simple messages, such as saying no to your colleagues, do not need practice to be coherent.

Opportunity window: How long will the opportunity to speak up last?

When an opportunity is time-sensitive, you might not have enough time to prepare. It is better to take advantage of the opportunity, even if imperfectly.

Consider you are at a conference and the speaker is someone you would like to work with. She says that she will leave right after the speech, but will take some questions at the end of her talk.

That may be your only opportunity to ask a question and connect with that speaker. If you spend the entire speech planning your perfect question, you will miss the actual speech. You might even end up with a question that the speaker already discussed in her talk.

Importance: How crucial is the situation?

If speaking up is extremely important, then your priority is to ensure you act. Your second priority is to communicate effectively.

For example, imagine that your company sponsor has walked into your office and asked if you could fill in someone’s position at a high-profile meeting that is about to start. Your goal is to speak up in the meeting, even if you feel unprepared.

[Related: Three Simple Strategies to Get Your Ideas Heard]

Anxiety: How anxious do you get practicing and delivering the message?

Higher anxiety and self-doubt can discourage you from speaking up or cause brain fog while you speak. And you will get more anxious in more complex, important, and time-sensitive situations.

If you feel more anxious when you rehearse, then consider rehearsing less. If you feel anxious when you do not rehearse, then practice more.

Overthinking: Do you overthink speaking up?

Some people research and script, but never feel completely prepared. This could lead to analysis paralysis and lengthy delays.

Over-thinkers might even feel less prepared when they practice more. If advance preparation will reduce your chances of speaking up, then limit your preparation time or consider not preparing.

Opportunity cost: What is the opportunity cost of the time spent practicing?

Do you prepare and practice more than your colleagues for meetings, performance reviews, and other important work conversations?

While preparation could help build confidence, it could also steal precious time to work on other projects and network. Ask yourself what else could you be doing with that time instead of rehearsing.

Passion: Are the words or the emotion conveyed more important?

When delivering a memorized speech or talk, it is easy to focus on the words and lose the passion and emotion.

In many situations, it is more important to express your enthusiasm, passion, or frustration than it is to beautifully articulate your words, because people connect through emotion.

Empathy: Are the words or the outcome more important?

Practice shifts your attention to how well you perform instead of how to achieve your desired outcome. It makes you partially blind to how the person you are talking to reacts, reducing your ability to pivot and adapt according to the situation.

Taking imperfect action is better than not taking any action, and usually better than taking delayed perfect action.

If you find it hard to speak up, tend to overthink, and get more anxious when practicing, then consider the above questions to evaluate if you really need to practice being assertive. If not, then practice less, speak up more, and allow your progress to build your confidence and skills. The more you speak up, the better you will get at finding the right words for every situation.

[Related: This Powerful Question Will Help You Better Manage Self-Doubt]

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Ivna Curi is an experienced corporate professional and owner of AssertiveWay.com, where she empowers women to build confidence and communicate effectively through assertiveness at work.


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