Standing up for yourself at work is probably not an experience you look forward to, but it is one of the most important things you can do. That’s because “you teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce" (Tony Gaskins).
So, if you regularly convince yourself to be non-confrontational or let things slide, then you may in fact be doing yourself a great disservice. Not standing up for yourself when you feel compelled to can cause feelings, such as resentment, that put your mindset, performance, engagement, and relationships at work in jeopardy.
Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you are contemplating action, you’ve come to the right place, as we’ve outlined how to stand up for yourself at work below.
While it can be tempting to be the “easy-going one” at work, down the road this approach can make you feel taken advantage of or undervalued, which is not the precedence you want to set long-term. Therefore, you must always be your biggest advocate. As Maya Angelou has said, “I not only have the right to stand up for myself, but I have the responsibility. I can't ask somebody else to stand up for me if I won't stand up for myself. And once you stand up for yourself, you'd be surprised that people say, "Can I be of help?"
There will be situations that call for you to stand up for yourself and others that you can let go. The key is to be able to discern when the time is right to take action or say something. When it is, be intentional in how you approach the conversation and always be tactful and as factual as possible, as to avoid it being misinterpreted as complaining.'
While we often think of standing up for yourself as a result of a negative interaction or experience, you can preemptively stand up for yourself at work by setting boundaries with your coworkers and leaders. What this means is that if you already know what your boundaries are, you don’t need to wait for someone to cross them to make them known. Instead, choose to have a conversation with your coworkers or leader early on about boundaries. When you do, there’s a good chance that you will begin a conversation that both parties can act on and benefit from.
If you find yourself in an interaction or situation that makes you feel mistreated, disrespected, or uncomfortable, do you try to convince yourself it wasn’t a big deal? Do you try to sweep it away like it never happened? While it’s best to critically think through a situation before standing up for yourself, it’s also important to follow your gut if something just feels wrong. As hard as it may be, if you have the conviction that something is wrong and needs to be acknowledged, don’t belittle yourself or your experience when it comes time to speak up. Rather, speak with conviction and stand strong in your decision to do so.
If by standing up for yourself, you feel you are making problems, then it can be easy to feel some pressure to apologize for it. While there is a time and place for apologies, when you’re standing up for yourself in the workplace, be mindful of over-apologizing as it can give people the impression you are unsure or guilty, which is not the impression you are trying to make.
Standing up for yourself in a crowd or on-the-spot can be intimidating for anyone. If that seems like too much, start practicing in situations with lower stakes. This way you get to test out different techniques, get comfortable with what it feels like to stand up for yourself, and gradually build up your confidence for the day you really need it.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are asked to do something that is outside of your capabilities, even the scope of your job, then you should stand up for yourself. Simply explain that the request is beyond your current scope, capabilities, or skill level. Rather than backing yourself into a situation where you don’t know what you’re doing and risk failure, it’s best to be transparent and upfront about your capabilities and limitations so the one requesting something of you can make a fully informed decision.
There are interactions and experiences at work that happen so fast or are so intense that you don’t have time to think clearly or thoroughly. If you want to be sure you give the best possible answer for the sake of yourself, your work, and your team, then it is alright to respectfully say, “This has given me a lot to think about. I would like to take it away to think about it more fully and create an action plan. Can I get you an answer in 24 hours?” By doing so, you not only stand up for yourself but show respect to those who might be impacted by your answer.
When it comes to standing up for yourself at work, there are a number of tips and tricks, like the ones listed above, that can ensure you have the intended impact. Though if you wish to accelerate your confidence and competence in this area, consider a training program that covers communication, mindfulness, presence, and assertiveness.