Have you ever been given a work assignment late on a Friday with a Monday morning deadline?
Maybe you spent the whole weekend working yourself up to address the issue only to lose your nerve Monday morning. Standing up for ourselves can be very scary, especially in the workplace where the consequences can be high. Each of us has a button (or two or three) that, when pushed, leads us to shut down. Fear of looking stupid, avoiding criticism, and wanting to be “likeable" are just a few examples. If you’re not used to standing up for yourself, it can be uncomfortable and scary. You may be worried that you will come across as aggressive and demanding. Not speaking up lets us avoid those uncomfortable feelings in the short term, but what happens over time? For starters, we don’t get our needs met. Bosses and colleagues don’t change their behaviour and we slowly feel more resentful, disconnected, and powerless. It also impacts our self-esteem when we feel invisible or taken for granted at work.
When I first learned about the communication tips below, I remember thinking “I wish they taught this to me in school.” Here are some strategies to use when you want to stand up for yourself at work:
It can be hard to assert ourselves if we don’t have a general outline for how to communicate. Describe. Express. Specify.
Generalizations like “you always ask me to do projects first…” can lead to exception finding (“Not true, I asked Bob first last month this one time…”) that let the other person invalidate your whole argument. Instead describe the most recent issue and describe the behaviour or action “I noticed today you…” or, if there is a pattern of behaviour, try framing it as “frequently” or “more than once.” This will describe the behaviour or action you’re addressing with a concrete and recent example. This concrete example and using specific behavioural description allows you to avoid using labels that hinder the other person’s acceptance of your message
Using “I” statements helps make it clear what you want, think and feel. For example: “I feel….” rather than “You make me feel…”. “I feel” statements are powerful because no one can really dispute what you are feeling. This also invites the other person to think about things from your point of view.
Communicate your message directly to the intended person, whether it’s your colleague or a supervisor.
The key to standing up for yourself at work is to remain respectful to the other person. We can show respect by demonstrating through words and actions that we understand the other person’s point of view, thoughts and feelings about the situation. We can show respect by:
Has the other person understood the message you tried to communicate? Is there a gap between what you tried to say and how it was understood?
When you’re assertive, you ask for what you need, you talk openly about what you want, and you recognize when someone is taking advantage of you. You can approach the things you do with confidence and make a direct impact on your environment. But this does not come easily for everyone.