Some of my newest friends would never believe me when I say this, but up into my early '20s I was painfully shy. I'm not sure what happened, maybe just life experience, but I have grown out of it. I don't think I'm too aggressive or talk so much that people are pooling their money to buy industrial size rolls of duct tape for my mouth, but I am no longer afraid to express myself.
That's because I've learned that expressing yourself may not always get you what you want, but not expressing yourself will never get you what you want. Have you ever known a passive-aggressive person and made that person angry in some way? Every "What's wrong?" is answered with "Nothing," although you can see him seething or pouting. And it's not true that if you cared about the person, you would know what you did. Sometimes you just don't know unless you're told.
Dealing with passive-aggressive or submissive people has taught me a powerful lesson—never, ever assume someone can read your mind. If you got a beef, the only way to get it out there is to, well, get it out there. And not just to the three colleagues who sit around you. Although it may feel like your complaints are so justified that they will magically float from your cubicle down the hall to the boss's office where they will magically ping into his brain, it's not going to happen.
I hear a lot of people in the workplace use the words "It won't do any good" when referring to why they don't bring a problem to the attention of management. Sometimes that's true. Sometimes you can describe a problem to a nodding, smiling manager until you're blue in the face and get nothing accomplished. That's because some managers are afraid that if they heed your words or use your advice, it will be like admitting they were somehow deficient in their own role. Sometimes they think they know better than you. Sometimes they just don't care. Sometimes they think the problem's solution would take too much energy. But, sometimes, just sometimes, pointing out a problem could be the first step in making a difference. I think it's worth the chance.
Of course, you don't need to barge in, put your foot up on the boss's desk and say, "OK, listen up, pops" or deliver your speech like that guy in the movie "Network" who was mad as hell as wasn't going to take it anymore. It requires some finesse. It requires preparation and a logical, not emotional, presentation of facts. It also requires that you be open to the possibility that what appears to be wrong to you might be right for business reasons that you're not privy to. But at least you will have tried.
It's easy to not take action. You never really know for sure if something will do any good. The more important question to ask is "Will it do any harm?" If not, give it a try.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.