Skill 1: Speak Up Without Hesitation

Speaking up without hesitation is a fundamental business communication skill, especially in English-speaking meetings. Employees who are able to respond quickly and smoothly to any comment, question, or opinion, often do better than their peers at work. Thankfully, speaking up without hesitation is a business skill you can practice and improve over time! And you can practice it in any language! 

This article explores the significance of speaking up without hesitation, the challenges it presents for different communication styles, and offers practical solutions for individuals and businesses.

What is speaking up without hesitation?

Speaking up without hesitation is the ability to respond quickly and smoothly to any comment, question, or opinion. Most simply, the skill is thinking. It requires connecting two thoughts together so you can comment or answer smoothly and quickly. 

Hesitation is remaining silent because of fear of risk. 

It’s common to evaluate your thinking before speaking. This creates a pause before responding. Unfortunately, in many cultures, especially global business, this pause is interpreted as 1) not understanding, 2) hesitation, or even 3) that the listener wasn’t paying attention. 

Speaking up without hesitation helps with this problem. It helps you speed up your evaluation so that you can speak more easily and efficiently. 

The Advantages of Speaking Up without Hesitation

As an employee, this allows you to demonstrate your capability to your colleagues and leaders. 

As a leader, this helps your team become more confident in your leadership. 

As a salesperson or company representative, this helps your clients and company partners better trust  that you can deliver your promised results. 

This is because speaking up without hesitation helps you seem more confident, look more professional, and helps you increase your influence. ( short research based explanation). 

How Speaking Up Impacts You and Your Business

Speaking without hesitation, when appropriately matched  to the communication culture, builds rapport and approachability. Increased participation in discussions, opinion sharing, and enhanced visibility become natural outcomes. The development of this skill enables quicker thinking and confident responses, fostering effective teamwork in diverse environments. Ultimately, it contributes positively to internal and external business relationships, making it a valuable asset for personal and professional growth.

Hesitation is a positive trait. Shouldn’t I think before I speak?

Speaking up without hesitation doesn’t mean speaking quickly. 

Speaking up without hesitation doesn’t mean speaking without thinking. 

In fact, speaking up without hesitation requires thinking! Think of it as verbal parkour – the ability to stumble, recover gracefully, and try again. It involves

  • connecting data points, 
  • providing answers, 
  • generating insights, and even 
  • deflecting challenging questions. 

This skill alone is a powerful tool, but its effectiveness lies in the ability to match the level of hesitation with the cultural context.

What are the unwritten rules when it comes to speaking up?

Speaking up is perceived differently in different cultures, and so employees from different cultures may have different challenges when speaking up without hesitation. 

Individuals from indirect communication cultures may stop themselves from giving unplanned comments or questions, coming off as shy or quiet. Indirect communicators may freeze or even provide excessive information, both harmful to effective communication. 

On the other hand, direct communication cultures risk overwhelming others with high numbers of comments, potentially stifling input from quieter team members. In their eagerness, they might ask too many questions or offer too many opinions, potentially causing tension within indirect communication teams.

Keep these rules in mind when speaking up without hesitation: 

Direct Rule 1: It’s important to promote mutual understanding and progress.

One of the purposes of speaking up without hesitation is confirming that everyone present has the same understanding. In fact, this rule is largely where our speak up without hesitation skill comes from!

Direct Rule 3: When it comes to making sure a message is understood, the speaker has more responsibility than the listener.

When speaking up in a business context (especially when more than one culture is present!), it’s very important to be clear, detailed, and brief.

When speaking, focus on the main points of your message, and explain only those main points in detail. Remember, try not to speak for too long! Usually 30-60 seconds is more than enough. If you’re not sure, practice this with a timer!

Direct Rule 10: When you don’t understand, ask questions to clarify the matter immediately.

In business, understanding the problem is key. Speaking up without hesitation means being able to raise your hand and ask a question when you don’t understand. This is especially important in direct cultures—many people in direct cultures interpret silence to mean that you understand!

And remember, direct and indirect is relative. Sometimes we are direct communicators and sometimes we are indirect. This changes depending on the cultural context, who we are meeting with, and the circumstances of the meeting.

 Whether you come from a direct communication culture where hesitation is seen as shy or an indirect communication culture that values restraint, mastering the balance is crucial. Finding the right way to speak up in any given context is the first key step toward effective communication.

Learn more about our Direct and Indirect Rules of Communication in Chapter 3. 

Learning to Speak Up Without Hesitation

How do I learn to speak up without hesitation?

Overcoming hesitation is a skill that can be learned through practice. While language skills are foundational for speaking, speaking up is not just a language skill, but a thinking skill. Preparation, including note-taking and categorization techniques like VCR (Value; Cost & Risk), can enhance one’s ability to respond confidently. This is especially important for non-native speakers.

Practice Ad-Libbing to Improve Response Time

Ad-libbing means speaking spontaneously about a topic. In order to be able to speak without hesitation in a real business meeting, you need practice speaking spontaneously in a low-pressure situation.

Thankfully, it is easy to practice and improvement is usually quick.

We recommend practicing ad libbing in pairs. Here are the steps for practicing ad libbing in a group of two: 

  1. Partner A sets a timer for 30 seconds. Partner B prepares to speak. 
  2. Partner A gives Partner B a random topic and starts the timer.
  3. Partner B speaks on the topic for 30 seconds without stopping. 
  4. Switch roles. 
  5. Repeat, increasing the amount of time each person speaks.

If you can’t practice with a partner, you can still practice! Here’s how to practice ad libbing by yourself:

  1. Prepare a timer and random topic generator, such as the one from
  2. Set your timer for 30 seconds. 
  3. Generate a new topic. 
  4. Speak about that topic, no matter what it is, for thirty seconds or more.
  5. Repeat until you are comfortable speaking about any topic.
  6. Increase your time.

With practice either as a group or individually, you will gradually increase your ability to ad lib for a significant amount of time, no matter the topic. 

NOTE: If you can’t ad lib in your own language, it will be more difficult in English! Practice both.

Using Categorization Improves Response Quality

When ad libbing, you can talk about any aspect of the topic. However,  categories to help you organize your thinking more quickly and smoothly.

One such category aid is what I can VCR: Value; Cost & Risk. Apply VCR to any topic to sound more business-like and professional. 

To learn more about categorization and VCR, read our article here.

Taking Notes Decreases Response Time and Difficulty

Preparation is also key, especially if you are responding in your non-native language.

One of the best ways to prepare is to take and use notes. Notes will give you topics for your questions and answers.

Read more about taking notes in our article about it here. 


Mastering the art of speaking without hesitation is not just about fluent communication; it’s about understanding the cultural nuances and adapting accordingly. Striking the right balance allows individuals to navigate cross-cultural communication successfully, contributing to stronger relationships and a more inclusive work environment.

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