While it seems easier to avoid any potential work conflicts, being disrespected or disregarded at work may increase your stress and anxiety.
If you ever feel like you’re being treated unjustly, you need to stand up for yourself.
But, how exactly do you stand up for yourself at work? Here are some experts’ insights.
Human Resources Consultant | Professional Coach | President, Dashboarding Minds
If you feel the need to stand up for yourself at work, chances are, you feel overlooked, misunderstood, or disrespected by your boss or colleagues. Maybe you did not get the promotion you were working towards or got blamed for a mistake that was not your fault.
For many of us, speaking up to air our grievances at work feels scary and wildly uncomfortable because we fear it will lead to conflict. And by definition, conflict is not a peaceful or harmonious word. It involves antagonistic, opposing, competitive, and/or incompatible viewpoints.
So, what does one do when they feel their response will create conflict?
More often than not, the resulting action is inaction. We do nothing. We swallow or internalize our feelings. We come up with all kinds of reasons for why it makes sense to keep quiet; “He will get angry with me!” “She will think I am totally out of line!” “He will blame me!” “What’s the point? She is my boss and calls the shots.”
When it comes to dealing with conflict, avoidance is a common and understandable coping skill because it shields us from uncomfortable emotions and situations.
However, avoidance does nothing to help us truly resolve or reconcile our grievances. Think of a swimmer who gets swept out to sea and is trying to get back to shore by doing the energy-saving doggy paddle instead of the more rigorous breaststroke.
By choosing the easier method, they actually increase their risk of exhaustion before they reach safety because it takes much longer to move forward.
This is why my number one client training program focuses on how to master the art of navigating a difficult conversation. This is a powerful skill that enables you to advocate for yourself (and others) without fear.
It involves learning how to frame and present your grievances to another party in a highly specific and intentional way that fosters open-dialogue, collaboration, and ultimately, positive resolution. Within this framework, there are a few key tactics:
- Emphasis on the “how”. If the situation was reversed, how would you like the grievance to be presented to you?
- Focus on showing up to the conversation as your best possible self, instead of focusing on the outcome.
- Every word matters. Choose your words carefully and avoid placing blame.
So, the next time you experience a pang of disappointment, anger, or frustration at work, pause. Think about what you could do that would allow you to communicate your needs with grace and a solution-seeking spirit.
Ten times out of ten, the answers lie within. And then take action! You’ve got this.
Career and Leadership Coach, Ama La Vida
To me, there is a myriad of situations where self-advocacy comes to mind. For example,
- Do you want to ask for a raise or a promotion?
- Do you want the opportunity to work on a unique project?
- Do you feel a unique perspective is being overlooked?
- Are you concerned that diverse voices are not being heard or represented?
Get your facts together and be prepared
What are you asking for? Is it important for the organization, the team, you and your boss, or maybe just you? Be clear. Be sure about this. Requests and statements that are not fully considered will not be taken seriously.
Consider the contrary points of view and timing
What might others perceive as obstacles to your request? What might be distracting them from hearing what you are saying? When is the right time to stand up for yourself? Understanding the implications of what you are asking for will demonstrate your commitment.
The more you are prepared, the better able you will be to stand up to “real” or “perceived” threats that might dissuade you from asking for what you need or want.
We often hear our clients tell us “I am just not sure they will think I deserve this.” or “I am much younger than others on the team so I feel awkward stating my point of view.” or “I am so worried they will say no.”
There are a million iterations of this hypervigilance. These feelings are not uncommon. Ask yourself:
- What it will take for you to be confident as you move forward in your career?
- What is the worst-case scenario and how will you handle it?
- When have you stood up for yourself in the past and what worked well and what did not?
Practice your argument
Like anything else that feels daunting practice makes it easier. Maybe you will record yourself practicing, maybe you will stand in front of the bathroom mirror, maybe you will find a co-worker or friend who will assume the role of the person you have to ask. Do it a bunch.
Stand tall, look people in the eye, dress in a way that gives you confidence. Treat yourself with patience and kindness. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Related: Why is Self Confidence Important?
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Standing up for oneself in any context can feel daunting, but this is particularly true in the workplace, where impression management reigns. However, being able to speak your mind about important issues is a matter of personal integrity.
To do this effectively, several factors should be considered:
Check the issue’s importance
First, how important is it for you to stand up for yourself about this? It’s prudent to learn to pick and choose your battles. If the matter is of minimal importance, maybe hold off this time. If it feels meaningful and necessary, proceed.
Establish the message you want to convey
Second, what exactly are you wanting to say? Take some time to consider and distill the message you want to communicate. This can be done by reflection, talking with trusted peers, or writing your thoughts to achieve maximum clarity.
Consider how you want to stand up for yourself
In most cases, in-person communication is best (albeit most anxiety-inducing); this is because much interpersonal data is lost when we text or email our feelings.
It’s best to assert oneself by assuming open and confident body language (upright posture, good eye contact, gentle yet firm voice), but also maintaining a stance of respect by both validating the other person’s point of view and being clear about yours.
Choose a time that is mutually agreeable and ideally not when the other person is stressed
Lastly, timing is everything. Keep in mind that even if you do this with perfect grace, you still may not get the response you’re hoping for.
However, there is often a felt sense of self-respect and authenticity. Allow yourself to bask in those feelings and the knowledge that you stood up for something that was important to you, even though it was scary.
Career Expert, ResumeLab
We’ve all heard horror stories about hellish bosses or colleagues that make your day-to-day work feel like Dante’s Inferno. It could keep you up at 2 AM, give a whole new meaning to Monday blues, as well as sap away your energy from a potentially fulfilling role.
Here are several tips to help you stand up for yourself at work:
Ask yourself is there an option to approach the person about their workplace behavior
Is it safe to give them the much-needed nudge and hope it won’t have the same impact as a fly on the windshield? If you don’t think the confrontation will yield any fruit, my recommendation is to leverage behavioral therapy tactics that will help you slash the impact of the bully.
Namely, start to look at the situation through the lens of the fleeting nature of time. Remind yourself that whatever unpleasant they do, it’s temporary, like a medical injection, which will be just nothing in a few years.
If you don’t think you can dissociate yourself from the soul-crushing behavior of your boss or peer, consider fighting fire with fire. Dealing with an abusive person is very much like handling a schoolyard bully: if you can’t walk away, the best option is to retaliate and fight back.
Executive Coach | TEDx Speaker | Certified Conversational Intelligence Coach |
Author, Where’d My Confidence Go… and How Do I Get It Back?
The first thing you need to realize is that there is a neuroscientific reason why you back down, step over things, and do not stand up for yourself.
What happens is when your brain experiences a threat, it triggers the part of your brain that is tasked with protecting you called the amygdala.
When this is triggered, it hijacks the executive functioning of your brain where your brilliance and creativity lay and you react. This reaction comes from the dump of neurochemicals into your system that causes the fight, flight, freeze, or appease reactions.
Appeasing is people-pleasing and it has you not stand for yourself. The interesting thing is your brain cannot tell the difference between a real threat to your life like a car coming at you, and a not real threat like your boss correcting you or someone saying something in a particular tone of voice that seems threatening.
When you realize this is simply a well-worn brain pattern, you can go from reacting and backing down all the time to someone who recognizes the pattern, intervenes in it, and creates new brain patterns that are thought out. This process takes some time but it works very well. I call it the WAIT process (using the acronym WAIT).
Notice the pattern. The pattern includes repetitive and familiar thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Then, analyze what happened by using this process. Ask yourself:
- What: What actually happened? (facts only)
- Assume: What did I assume and add to what happened?
- Interpret: What did I interpret and add to what happened?
- Take: Take everything you assumed and interpreted and added to what happened away and you are left with the simple facts. You then act on the facts.
What I find is that when you employ this process, you keep regaining your own power and then can stand for yourself vs reacting to not-real threats.
Scott M. Behren, Esq.
Owner, Behren Law Firm
Reach out to your supervisor or human resources department
In order to stand up for yourself at work, employees need to speak up and let supervisors and human resources know what they feel or what issues they are having, preferably in writing an email, or letter, etc.
You want to express your feelings without being rude or nasty. A diplomatic tone would be helpful. In my experience, too many employees sit back and say nothing and let themselves get stepped all over.
If you get retaliated against based upon complaints of illegal actions, elevate your complaint to the Department of Labor or OSHA or NLRB or EEOC as may be required.
Founder and CEO, Brandloom
Workplace bullies, injustice, and peers taking your advantage are common. We all have experienced this at some point in our professional lives.
But, going with the flow or taking the bullet isn’t always the right thing to do. At times, you need to make a different choice and stop people from walking all over you.
You need to be very patient and calm to stand up for yourself
Simply rising to anger doesn’t work. You need to make sure things don’t go extreme. Always remember that you’re standing up for what’s right and that you don’t hold hate for anybody. This actually helps in taking control of the situation.
It’s good to face the issue head-on
Try to figure out what’s bothering you and only then you can explain it to others.
Explain your perspective calmly and listen to them as well
Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean playing the blame games, using accusatory words, or combative tones. Do not ever spoil the office decorum in the quest for ‘justice’. Raise your voice with modesty. Don’t simply attack.
It takes courage to stand up for yourself. Being kind works but being timid doesn’t. Hence, start taking simple measures. For example, when someone says you something that you disagree with, say something.
Instead of acting angrily or making comments, be deliberate and tell them what you didn’t find right. Wear your confidence and walk with your head held high.
Chief Marketing Officer, Better Proposals
Be authentic and transparent
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and say what you really mean, but do it without being defensive about your attitude. A lot of times, people will dismiss what you say because you may seem like you’re just trying to defend your attitude.
It takes a while to build up a reputation of someone who isn’t afraid to speak what they mean, but once you do, it’s worth the effort.
It takes a bit of practice to get it right, but once you do, no one will question what you say and why you’re saying it because you will be known as someone who is vocal about what they think. Do it more than a few times and you will get a reputation – people won’t question your claims.
Back it up with facts
However, there is one place where people go wrong: they decide to take a stand without backing it up with facts. For example, you’re a manager who wants to convince their CEO to start working remotely as a company but your only reasoning is that “it would be nice for productivity”.
If you want to really convince the CEO, arm yourself with research, facts, testimonials, and evidence to back up your claim.
That way, you will have a much stronger case, and standing up for what you believe in will become much easier. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but you can get away without doing it here and there.
Chief Investigator and Owner, North American Investigations
Maintain your composure
Remember that you can stand up for yourself without appearing defensive. You can even defend yourself better if you remain calm without letting your emotions take over.
Be respectful during the confrontation
The work environment requires everyone to practice respect to maintain harmony. Being confronted at work is not a definite indication of poor performance because you can defend yourself from accusations. You should use that opportunity to reason out with logic instead of mindlessly bad mouthing the opposition.
Consider all the things thrown at you. Are they telling the truth? If you consider their criticism valid and change for the better, it also benefits not only your career but also your personal life.
Christine Matzen, B.S., M.S.
Founder, Oak Street Strategies, LLC
Standing up for yourself at work is an important step in being the leader in your own life and beyond. This can be a tricky skill to build because of the constant sense of pressure that is built in the proximity of a work environment.
Define yourself and your beliefs
First and foremost, for anyone that wants to be a leader in their own life, it begins with defining yourself. Knowing who you are and what you stand for is the foundation for consistency and integrity.
Start with writing a proof sheet about who you are. What are the skills and traits that make you unique? Write out your code for life these are the moral and ethical codes that you would be willing to sacrifice for that are the core of who you are striving to be.
Pick your battles
Once you are clear on who you are and what you stand for, you can begin to pick your battles. When you want to stand up for yourself it is important that you start with issues that are affecting you directly.
You want those around you to recognize that you are serious and that you are expecting a change in their behavior.
In order to make this clear, standing up for yourself in targeted situations can help to establish your personal resolve in standing strong and help to establish clear boundaries for others in the workplace to follow.
Plan the communication process
Strategic contemplation can be an important tool to prepare you for the in-person interaction. Consider an interaction in the past where you did not stand up for yourself. Think it through and visualize what you would have wanted to say.
How would it make you feel? How would it change your work environment? Are there any gaps in your knowledge that you may need to fill before you have your next interaction? Preparation and visualization can allow you to be calm and confident when you do it in realtime.
Command presence is key in communication that you want to be followed. You want to communicate in a low toned voice that shows that you are calm and capable. Use clear and concise instructions about what is unacceptable behavior and why. Maintain your calm and clear demeanor to build respect for your message.
Now that you have taken the opportunity to stand up for yourself in a strong and concise way, be consistent in your communication going forward. Continue your strategic contemplation on a regular basis so that you can continue to build your skillset and knowledge before large decisions or interactions need to be made.
Chantay Bridges, CNE, SRES
Certified Negation Expert, Los Angeles Real Estate Now
Take the high road
]This is not the time, to do unto others as they have done unto you. Here is when you want to show them, that despite their efforts to sabotage you, it didn’t work.
Your work, output, reputation is just as strong before they laid a trap. You continue to outperform them no matter what. You take the high road and keep on stepping.
Do what the others can’t
Your hater can say whatever they may yet your superior work speaks volumes. Your track record so out far exceeds theirs that you are standing up for yourself without ever having to utter a single word.
People can see clearly where the problem is and it’s not with you. You are doing your job and far exceeding the norm. You’re good and you do what others can’t.
With pride yet humility
You don’t have to boast yet it’s okay to share your wins and successes. You can make it clear that due to your hard work, long hours, and dedication you won that big account.
You were able to make a difference in the companies numbers and if given the opportunity will love to seek to do it again. You are standing up and standing out.
Be overly prepared
No matter what question you may be asked, tested, tempted, or tricked, just be prepared. Be ready to do your job in a way that no one else can. Be prepared in season and out. Be prepared when things change. Be ready. Know your numbers. Know what your supervisor knows.
Co-Founder, Wealth Growth Wisdom, LLC
First off, you must know you will not be valuable to your organization if you always agree with other people and not able to think on your own or share your great ideas. Letting people walk all over you can increase feelings of stress and anxiety.
Believe in yourself
The only way to take charge of your life is by believing in your own power to defend yourself at work. It might be hard at first but all you need do is practice asking for what you want as often as possible.
Be careful with your temper
When someone says something you openly disagree with, or you feel pushed into doing something you don’t want to do, say something but be careful so as not to get angry. You can stand up for yourself and defend your arguments much easier if you don’t get mad.
Try to clarify without attacking so you can keep effective communication. You should always resist the urge to react with emotion at all costs.
Founder and Head Of Content Strategy, Hustle Life Media, Inc.
There comes a time when you need to stand up for yourself. Not just because you want to, but you need to. When that happens at work, always remember to be professional at work and lead by example.
You should always be calm and analytical
Precision is the key. You need to time it correctly so that they can’t do anything about it anymore. Don’t be confrontational because that won’t help you in any way.
Instead, be clear and deliberate. Organize what you’ll say by practicing it and hearing yourself out loud. Be prepared for everything and practice.
Understand your opponent
Learn his weakness and figure a way to go around it. Learn to get past your emotions and get a perspective of your situation. The most important of all is your delivery. You should be firm and confident when you stand up for yourself.
Co-Founder & CEO, Chargebacks911
When you stand up for yourself at work, it’s important to think about how your actions will be perceived by others. I’ve found it’s a balancing act between having confidence in your abilities and not being too aggressive.
Never forget to respect your co-workers
If you have a confrontation with a coworker and feel like you’ve been disrespected, it’s important to remain respectful towards the other person while standing your ground.
When backed into a corner, it’s easy to allow your emotions to dominate the situation. I suggest bringing in an objective third party to help facilitate the conversation and resolve conflict.
Step away from the situation to gather your thoughts and control your anger
That way, you can come back ready to assert yourself without further alienating your chances of reaching a resolution.
Standing up for yourself is an essential part of being a good employee. If you have good ideas then we need to hear them, and if you don’t feel you can share, we have a problem.
If you are being ignored, if someone is taking credit for your work, tell it like it is. The first thing you need to do is work on your voice. If you have children, you have the ability to command others. Use it.
Talk to whoever is in charge
If there is bullying going on, talk to whoever is in charge. Let them know what is happening. If the people in charge are doing it, go above them. These things stop when we stop them.
Remember the keys to being heard
Eye contact, talk loudly enough that others can hear you, talk clearly, and act like you are in charge of the situation even if that isn’t the case. Written records are very useful, as people can’t claim you did or didn’t say something if it is right there in black and white. The same is true of their responses.
Owner & CEO, Marygrove Awning, Co.
Following orders and arguing against decisions some managers make can be a challenge for some. However, being pushed around can show weakness and many will try to take advantage.
Show them how good of a worker or employee you are
I believe that working hard without question is the best way to earn respect and trust from your employer and managers. If their decisions don’t make sense, because of your experience and work ethic, they are more likely to listen to you.
Your opinion and your solution compared to someone who may have just joined the company or does not have a proven track record. Therefore, the best way of standing up for yourself at work is by showing others how good of a worker you really are, this will not go unnoticed.
If you feel you have to stand up for yourself then there is probably a valid reason you feel that way. Take a moment to act as though you are in a theatre and watching the situation that made you uncomfortable unfold on the stage.
Putting yourself in the position of the viewer and not as a victim helps clear your thoughts and manage your emotions.
Ask yourself, “Who are the players, and what’s happened from their points of view?” After you have evaluated the situation, if you still feel you need to stand up for yourself then the best way to do it is to find the business case by asking the following questions:
- How has the offensive behavior, person, or situation affected your ability to successfully accomplish a task, project, or be successful in your job?
- Does the offensive behavior or situation have an impact on productivity, efficiency, or revenue?
- What hindrances has it caused in your day to day activities, work relationships, or safety?
- How often does this behavior, offensive person, or situation repeat the offense that warrants that you speak up? Do you have documentation?
Follow your company’s escalation procedure
Especially, when it comes to matters of safety, or other workplace legal violations like discrimination, sexual harassment, and other matters where human resources should likely be involved.
If it is not a legal matter, I always encourage people to look at the business case first by asking, “How does what is upsetting me now affect my ability to do my job?”
Sales Manager | Founder, Sisu & Serenity
First, I would say that standing up for yourself at work starts with being crystal clear about your key tasks, and focusing on them. Key tasks are the tasks you are evaluated by.
When you are at work, work towards these goals, these should be your priorities – not gossiping, arranging binders, or putting too much effort into other insignificant tasks – no matter how much you would love to do all these.
The thing is that when your performance is way above average, you have that good track record to back yourself up in difficult situations. Remember: no-one deserves anything; you earn respect and new possibilities by your performance and attitude. Some other proven tips:
Express what you want before you are asked
Do you want that job that’s opening soon or do you want to be a part of a project? The key point is to express your ambitions before anyone is asked. Say it out loud and to the right people.
Often, women put in the hard work in the hopes to get recognition – and often, they will get disappointed. They see others being promoted and getting picked into those cool projects. Why? Usually, because that woman feeling sidelined, she never expressed her interest in these things.
Standing up for yourself means that you take an active role and don’t just wait and see if things will go into the direction you want.
Prepare yourself for the hard conversations
Clarify your goal for the hard conversation coming. The goal is not the same as the topic of the conversation. The topic would be something like “wage bargaining”, or “creating clear boundaries to your job description.”
The goal is the specific outcome you want. A goal could be “5 % increase to yearly income” or “to focus solely on marketing activities, ruling out all the general back-office stuff.”
Build your case; be prepared to justify your point of view. Prepare your answers to possible objections. I suggest writing all this down into your notebook.
When the time of the conversation comes, have your notes with you. It’s much harder to go speechless or lose a firm attitude when you have your pre-written comments in front of you.
Learn to say “no” if needed
Clarify the cost of your unwanted yesses. Very often we struggle to say ‘no’ to tasks we don’t want to do. But we are taught to be polite, dependable, and kind.
Good girls are helpful and while they are drowning under the workload, they still manage to squeeze in something else for someone who had the nerve to ask, right?
On a side note, yes, we need to be team-players and flexible when needed, sure. But there’s a difference in being a team-player in an equal team, and being that woman who gets all the extra work no-one else wants to do. If you find yourself to be that woman who is assumed to be that “someone” doing this and that… you need to start saying ‘no’ more often.
Saying ‘no’ firmly and confidently starts with understanding the alternative cost of your ‘yes’ to something, you actually don’t want. If you say ‘yes’, what’s the cost? Who pays?
If you agree on doing extra work, how does it affect you and your ability to perform in your job? Does this work support or undermine your performance, and how it will, therefore, affect your job security in the long run?
What about adding another point of view? If you say ‘yes’ to extra workload, are you actually saying ‘no’ to your family if the long hours are taken away from your time with them? Or, are you saying ‘no’ to your own health, if pulling extra hours means that you’ll skip your exercise routine?
What really matters? What choices support your goals and vision in both, your professional and private life? It’s much easier to say ‘no’ more often when these things are crystal clear; You tend to grow firm and confident with your ‘no’s because the alternative cost is too much to pay.
And on the other hand, when your goals and vision are clarified, you also build confidence in saying ‘yes’ to new possibilities and expressing your ambitions.
Build a strong network
No-one will succeed by themselves. Build a strong network throughout the organization. Building a network is not about building a circle of gossipers, and it’s not about who you can take advantage of.
Building a network is about getting to know people and helping them – and helping them to acknowledge your talents, capabilities, and interests at the same time. When they have new openings or other possibilities coming, you’ll be on their shortlist.
Also, when you are considered for a promotion or some other opening, managers tend to ask around. It’s a good situation to have other people backing you up, and speaking good things about you, without you even asking.
A bonus for all women who were raised to be (too) good girls, ask yourself, “What would a man do in this same situation How would a confident man react to this?” Take notes. Adopt. Execute.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can Standing Up for Yourself at Work Benefit Your Career?
Standing up for yourself at work can have several benefits for your career, for example:
• Your confidence and self-esteem are boosted, which can help you take on new challenges and seize new opportunities.
• You’ll improve your communication skills, which can help you build stronger working relationships and collaborate more effectively with others.
• You demonstrate your value and expertise to your peers and supervisors, which can help you gain more recognition and opportunities for advancement.
• Maintaining your integrity and authenticity can help you build a career that aligns with your values and priorities.
Remember that standing up for yourself doesn’t mean being aggressive or confrontational; rather, it means communicating your needs and values respectfully and assertively. By doing so, you can build a more fulfilling and rewarding career.
What Are Some Additional Resources for Learning About Standing Up for Yourself in the Workplace?
There are plenty of resources online and offline for learning about standing up for yourself in the workplace. Here are a few options:
Books: Several books address assertiveness in the workplace, including:
• Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson
• The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships by Julie de Azevedo Hanks
• The Nice Girl Syndrome: Stop Being Manipulated and Abused and Start Standing Up for Yourself by Beverly Engel.
Workshops and training: Many organizations and career coaches offer workshops and training on assertiveness, communication, and standing up for yourself at work. Look for opportunities to attend these events in your area or online.
Therapy or counseling: If you’re struggling to stand up for yourself at work or dealing with anxiety or stress in the workplace, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor specializing in workplace issues.
Online resources: There are many online resources available on the topic of standing up for yourself at work, including blogs, podcasts, and social media communities. Look for resources that align with your values and perspective, and consider sharing with others in online discussions or communities.
What Common Mistakes Should You Avoid When Standing Up for Yourself at Work?
While standing up for yourself can be an important and empowering practice, there are some common mistakes people make that can hinder their effectiveness. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:
• Being overly aggressive or confrontational. This can turn people off and damage your professional relationships.
• Making accusations or assumptions without having all the facts. This can make you seem unreasonable or unprofessional.
• Failing to consider other people’s perspectives or needs. Remember that workplace interactions are reciprocal, and it’s important to consider how your actions and words might affect others.
• Forgetting to listen. Communication is a two-way street; you must listen to others’ perspectives and concerns if you want them to listen to you.
Remember that standing up for yourself is balancing advocating for your needs and respecting and being considerate of others. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can achieve that balance.
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