Bullish: Speak Up Like A Competent Badass In Class And At Work

5)      For all other comments, never sound like you are asking a question when you are not asking a question. See Bullish Life: How to Communicate with Chutzpah for more on this point.

In the workplace, some of this is a bit different, as not everyone has the same role, and it doesn’t make sense to expect everyone to speak roughly the same amount. But one technique applies equally to both classes and jobs: I always find that whatever you have to say has more credibility anyway if someone else has to ask, call on, or consult you. So, mention ahead of time to a boss or professor whatever it is you want to talk about – send an email, show up at office hours, be a few minutes early to class or the meeting.

If you have a new idea to bring up, bosses generally want a heads-up anyway so they can seem in control (never surprise your boss in a meeting). Professors generally like to think that people want to intellectually engage in their disciplines for pleasure, and thus tend to enjoy intellectual inquiries or points made (succinctly) outside of class.

So, prime the situation by mentioning ahead of time a particular area on which you have something to say. When it comes up in discussion, an authority figure may turn to you, even suggesting to others that you have something important to say. And, if not, see the above for speaking up anyway.

In case you have the opposite problem…

I have spent my adulthood learning how to shut the fuck up when it was strategic to do so.

In Bullish Life: How to Communicate with Chutzpah, I also wrote about knowing when to end your damn sentence, and then being comfortable with silence. A silence during which you effect a blank expression and simply wait expectantly.

In general, though, speaking a bit less on any individual point adds more credibility. Consider:

“Supplier X has offered us the lowest price and the best features. They’re an obvious choice. The other suppliers all made offers that weren’t as good, and Supplier M’s was just ridiculous. So, taking it all into account, I think X is the best plan. Last time we picked a bad supplier…”

Now imagine this, followed by the stony-expression eye-contact face:

“Supplier X has offered us the lowest price and the best features. They’re the clear choice.”

Of course, people like you much more when you ask questions about them and their ideas. If you have too much to say in class, make notes and combine your points into more cogent points every so often, or fold your points into questions about others’ views. If you have too much to say in a meeting, make notes, wait until after the meeting, and email or IM people about anything that actually still seems important.

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    • Kj

      Ha! I have a male alter-ego named Kron that I invented when I had to learn how to lead in Ballroom dance. Kron dance very good, yes! Maybe I should let Kron out in a workplace environment more (without the ridiculous barbarian accent of course).

      The thing is, it’s just so hard to speak up sometimes. I find that in almost every professional situation I find myself in, when I voice my opinion and push to have my suggestion implemented, people just shoot me down – and if I push harder to try and convince them, they treat my suggestions like I am trying to create conflict, or a petty fight.

      I don’t know what it is that I do – I think I’m pretty good at being firm but diplomatic, but in the end I always just cave because I prefer to maintain social harmony instead of getting my way and causing friction within the group.

      …and then most of the time I end up being right, and we are all screwed over because of the bad decision making process, and we end up sleeping in the rain (funny story! Not.)

      Anyways, I just don’t know how to be unwaveringly confident about my opinions without coming off as a harpy, which is what I assume happens since I feel like I am often not taken seriously.

    • David

      Competition is a good thing. Sexism is a real phenomenon. Fostering an environment that promotes fairness and competition is not easy to say the least. How weird (and just plain wrong) was that when rumors went around that dodge ball was a no go because some kids feeling were hurt when they would lose. The men and women that are ingauged in a competition for the same scarce resources (jobs, raises, respect) are equally sexist of eachother. Someone is going to get knocked out. I didn’t get the job at Hooters waiting tables because I’m a man. I am also less like to be hired as a kindergaden and elementary school teacher because I am a man. If women want to play dodge ball, and they are knocked out, cry me a river. Get the referee to watch the instant replay.

    • Tania

      “[...] women in countries with far more serious sexism [...]” YES, this. I’m constantly explaining to people, when I inform them I’m a feminist and they say stupid shit like “oh, but it’s practically equal in Canada, what can you even do?” that I can become a still-quite-rare lady with a business degree, and that I can work towards helping women in places where they have almost no rights to things we in the first world don’t even think about having access to.

    • Save1Star

      Thanks for this- I thought I was the only one with an inner male alter ego LOL. I also needed the “how to shut up” section a lot more than the learn to speak section, as well as the reminder that not all of my sisters rock their job like me ;)

    • Jennifer Dziura

      Thanks, everyone! I have been chatting about the opposite-gender-alter-ego thing with others for a few days now, and apparently lots of women have male role models and alter egos (and are easily able to imagine themselves as the protagonist in a commercial or movie), and the reverse is far less true. Even if it’s like a commercial where the woman drives a racecar and is rewarded with beer. What an interesting topic for some future time.


    • Christina K.

      I love the assertive message of this article. I am sick of hearing many of the 20something females in my office drone on about being victimized by the good ol’ boys networks that are present in corporate America. Yes, they exist. And yes, they suck. But blaming your exclusion on a lack of football knowledge and distaste for beer is pathetic. Come up with something truly interesting and impressive to say and people, male and female, will listen.

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