Speak up. Make your opinions known. Let your voice be heard.
Have you been on the receiving end of advice like that before? Me too. We’re often encouraged to be vocal with our thoughts and insights in the office. After all, you have valuable contributions to offer—and, it doesn’t do you any good to keep them to yourself. Making sure that you’re heard at work is a good thing.
But, are there ever times when you’re better off keeping your lips zipped? As a matter of fact, yes. Here are five situations when you should go against that “speak up” advice and bite your tongue.
1. When Emotions Are Running High
You just received a snarky and condescending email from your co-worker. You’re ready to storm over to his desk—with clenched fists and smoke coming out of your ears—and let him know what’s what.
But, before you do, remember this: Speaking up in the workplace when your emotions are running high usually never pans out well. More often than not, you end up saying something you regret and ultimately make the situation that much worse.
Instead, give yourself a moment to cool off and regain your composure. If it’s a situation that really does need to be addressed, it’s smarter to do it when you aren’t feeling quite as cranked up.
2. When Your Boss’ Decision Is Final
Your department is working on a large annual project, and you suggest a new approach that your team could take to get it done. After some consideration, your manager decides to put your idea on the back burner and stick with the same old approach she’s always used.
You know your way is both more efficient and effective, so it can be tempting to respond to her decision with even more evidence as to why your approach is the way to go. However, that’s not recommended.
Why? Well, if you continue to pester your boss about pursuing your option (or, worse, complain about the fact that she didn’t!), you’re going to appear both relentlessly obnoxious and insubordinate. When your supervisor makes a final decision, it’s your obligation to respect it—whether you agree with it or not.
3. When You Don’t Have Anything Productive to Offer
We’ve all been in meetings with those people that just seem to enjoy the sound of their own voices. They never actually contribute anything productive to the conversation—instead, they just ramble in an effort to demonstrate that they’re engaged in the meeting.
However, there’s really no point in speaking up if you don’t actually have anything of substance to say.
So, whether it’s a piece of criticism that’s more brutal than constructive or a point that’s completely irrelevant to what’s being discussed, you’re better off keeping quiet when you don’t have anything valuable to offer. Trust me, everybody will appreciate it.
4. When You Feel Tempted to Offer Excuses
You missed your deadline for your piece of a project, and your boss called you out on it. You apologize for your lateness, and then—what usually comes next? If you’re like most people, you launch into a laundry list of reasons for the mishap.
Spoiler alert: Your “dog ate my homework” excuses really aren’t doing you any favors. You appear unwilling to accept responsibility for your actions, which results in even more trust lost from your supervisor or colleagues. For that reason, staying mum is better when you feel tempted to offer excuse after excuse.
Yes, there will be some instances where some added context is warranted—and you should be prepared to speak up then. But, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between an explanation and an excuse.
5. When the Conversation Turns to Gossip
You’re pulling your lunch out of the fridge when a co-worker approaches you. In a whisper, he asks if you heard about that project your other colleague completely bombed.
Stop right there. Before you let that response about how you noticed she had a closed-door meeting with your boss earlier that day slip out of your mouth, remember the fact that office gossip is never (and I honestly mean never) a good thing.
Participating—even with just a seemingly innocent comment—can easily come back to bite you. So, keep your mouth shut and politely remove yourself from the conversation.
There are definitely times you should speak up in the office, but there are also instances in which it’s smarter to stay quiet. If you’re ever not sure which route is right for you, just pause for a moment. Simply giving yourself the time to think before you speak is usually helpful in preventing you from saying something you’ll live to regret.
But, if you find yourself in one of these five clear cut situations? Take it from me and just bite your tongue. It’s better for everybody.
Photo of meeting courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author