August 3, 2012
How to stick up for yourself at work
Last-minute projects, insane deadlines, backstabbing you’ve had enough of being the team player with the heaviest workload who just wants to stay out of trouble. But how do you tackle the issue?
There are plenty of reasons people don’t stand up for themselves in the workplace: fear of getting a blowhard reputation, a distaste for confrontation, a preference for focusing on the work rather than the bragging rights. But if you never assert yourself, you’re not fully doing your job.
“Meetings were very noisy and people would assert themselves constantly,” says Juhl. “It was all about showing off how smart you were.”
- Understand what you want ahead of time.
- Be strategic in your approach.
- Know your value to the organization.
- Set boundaries and limits; say “no” when it matters most to you.
- Promote yourself in a way that feels authentic to you.
So Juhl got smarter. Instead of adding to the noise, she quietly did her research and formed alliances with co-workers who shared her beliefs and passion for the projects she was working on. When it came time to stand up, the message was that much stronger — and a lot more effective.
Stacey Sargent, CEO of Connect Growth and Development, a Seattle-based company that provides leadership and team-development training for companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, explains that putting yourself “out there” can be the hardest step.
First, she advises, be clear about what you want. “Often we’re so programmed by our corporate culture that we list our boss’s goals or our company’s goals as our own, which is fine,” Sargent says. “But I always ask clients, ‘What are your goals?’ ”
Once you’re clear on what it is you want, the next step is to plot a strategy and action plan. Sargent recommends beginning with a gap analysis — “Where am I?” vs. “Where do I want to be?” — and then arming yourself with real data. How do you add value? Who are the decision makers? Who has the influence? What steps do you need to take in order to get there?
This is the method Juhl employed at Microsoft to get ahead: asking questions, establishing allies and understanding power dynamics. “Once you figure all this out, you’re in a much better position to negotiate,” she says.
Though it’s easy to complain, don’t start there, advises Sargent. “Bosses don’t like whiners,” she says.
Instead, demonstrate your value to the organization by standing up with a plan. Eric Lindburg, a development manager at Getty Images in Seattle who manages a team of 12, says that thoughtful solutions initiated by team members are always well received.
“This is a great way to get visibility and increase [boost] your reputation,” he says. However, he also cautions: “A plan that is unreasonable is almost as bad as no solution at all.”
Which brings us back to the “reputation” issue. If you’re worried about being perceived as overly aggressive, it probably means you won’t be. More common is that inner critic who’s holding you back from speaking up in the first place.
If this is the case, Sargent advises making a list of ways you add value to the organization and reviewing it before talking with your boss or pushing back on a difficult colleague. Take the time to craft an unemotional email and speak up in writing. Or simply say “no” the next time someone hands you a last-minute assignment.
All of these things send the message that you’re on a new level from now on: standing up for yourself — and standing strong.
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