In the professional world, opinions can be dangerous. Holding a controversial opinion can damage your reputation; stating an opinion that contradicts your boss's can leave you vulnerable; voicing your opinion at the wrong time can make you appear foolish. The old adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln goes, "It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt," and in the realm of business, that seems to be the truth.
However, holding your opinions back can actually be more damaging than speaking them. In fact, opinions are what fuel momentum--all ideas, plans, and decisions begin and end with opinions, and if you consistently refrain from voicing yours, you'll be doing both your employer and your career a disservice.
1. You'll Appear More Confident. Confidence is never a bad thing to have. In a job interview, it can make you seem like a more appealing candidate. In a deal negotiation, it can make you seem like more of an authority. In a meeting, it can make you look like a more important player. Speaking your opinion openly makes you appear more confident, and that effect actually increases depending on the degree of controversy associated with that opinion. For example, if you strongly disagree with everyone else in the room, you'll appear more confident than if you go the safe route and openly agree. That confidence will build over time and help propel your career forward.
2. You Never Know What Could Change. A common reason for employees holding their opinions back is a belief that those opinions don't matter--that they won't be listened to, or they won't be acted upon. For example, if a worker is concerned with the effects of a new operations policy, he/she may refuse to voice his/her opinion under the impression that the policy won't change, regardless of circumstances. However, there is no guarantee that your opinion will be ignored or cast aside. If you speak up, your voice might make the difference, but if you hold back, you'll never know what positive outcomes you could be missing out on.
3. You'll Drive Discussion. Even if your opinion isn't taken into serious consideration, the fact that you brought it up can still drive a meaningful discussion. For example, if you offer a possible solution in a group meeting, the group may collectively decide that your idea isn't worth pursuing. However, even so, your opinion could generate some alternative lines of thinking and new perspectives that keep the conversation moving forward. Ultimately, discussion leads to results, and the more opinions there are to feed that discussion, the faster and more efficiently you'll eventually get to those results.
4. If You're Wrong, You'll Learn Why. Let's say you aren't sure that your opinion is valid, or that you know for a fact that there's something "off" with it. This could be an indication that your opinion isn't grounded or isn't relevant, or it could just be your psyche messing with you. If you want to find out, you have to voice your opinion. If your instincts are right and there is something wrong about your opinion--such as a false assumption or incorrect data--the other people around you will let you know. You won't appear foolish; instead, the situation becomes a genuine learning experience and you can walk away the wiser.
5. You Could Be the Voice of the Majority. Sometimes, workers are intimidated to voice their opinions because they feel like they're the only ones who feel a certain way. For example, if you're sitting in a meeting listening to your boss talk about a new marketing approach and you're concerned that the approach will be ineffective, you might clam up if you feel like the only one of a dissenting mind. However, everybody else in the meeting could be thinking the very same thing. If you voice your opinion, you could give a voice to everyone else. You may have more support than you realize.
6. The Risks Are Low. Most of us have a tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios when faced with an intimidating prospect. When you imagine voicing your opinion, you could envision yourself getting fired or humiliated in front of the entire company. In reality, these possible outcomes are extremely rare--the risks of making your opinion known are much lower than they might seem. If your workplace culture is the type that would support firing an employee because he/she voiced an opinion, you probably shouldn't be working there anyway.
7. Regretting Action Is Better Than Regretting Inaction. This is a fundamental principle to remember in many areas of your life. It's possible that you voice your opinion and live to regret it, but it's also possible that you keep your mouth shut and regret not saying anything. Ultimately, our regrets of inaction are much more severe than our regrets of action, meaning keeping your mouth shut is actually the more likely regret of the two. Take a chance--you'll feel good about it, even if it doesn't turn out how you intended.
Breaking past that intimidation barrier can be tough, especially if you're used to holding onto your opinions, but it's vital that you practice regularly speaking your mind in your career. Be mindful of the appropriate times and places to speak your opinion, but never be afraid to let your true feelings be known.