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3 Tips to speak up for yourself at work 

By 27/06/2023November 22nd, 2023I Don't Know What I Want To Do, Work Life
speak up for yourself at work

Do you struggle to speak up for yourself at work? Imagine you work with someone who holds a higher position than you. Maybe it’s your boss or someone who you support in another department. 

You have a cordial relationship, but he often tends to make requests of you that are outside your scope of work. He also pushes boundaries, and when he does, he has a very direct way of communicating.

As a result you find yourself feeling all sorts of things:

  • Irritation: Why doesn’t this person understand what my role is? 
  • Anger: Why is this person not respecting my time? 
  • Self-consciousness: Why am I not standing up for myself?

You want to push back and use your voice, but you’re not sure how. Instead your mind is spinning with different possibilities of how to respond, and before you know it, your confidence takes a toll. 

This might sound like a typical work scenario, but the truth is, if it’s not addressed, it can have big implications. 

When you don’t use your voice or stand up for yourself:

  • Your wellbeing will suffer, specifically your emotional and mental health.
  • You may start to avoid certain interactions and tasks, or communicate in a reactive way that can impact your relationships. 
  • You may disengage from certain tasks or avoid an opportunity  that could lead to a promotion or career growth. 

If you struggle with using your voice in the workplace, keep reading for 3 tips to speak up for yourself at work. 

Focus on the facts to reduce storytelling

Let’s go back to the original scenario I described. There’s this person at work who pushes boundaries and asks you to do things that are outside your scope of work. During a recent meeting, he asked you to take the lead on a marketing campaign that’s out of your scope of work. 

There’s many ways you can interpret this. You can assume this person is:

  • Inconsiderate and not taking the time to understand your role.
  • Selfish because they’re not considering your time. 
  • Aggressive because they’re direct with their requests. 

These are all assumptions. 

When our brains lack certainty or understanding, it’s easy to go into storytelling mode. We tell ourselves stories about the situation rather than anchoring ourselves in the facts. 

Before you do anything else, ask yourself: What are the facts of this situation? What did I observe?

This usually looks like a specific statement that someone made, such as: “You’ll take the lead on this marketing campaign” or “Can you take the lead on this marketing campaign?” 

Another fact is that this marketing campaign is out of scope for you. 

Stick to the facts you’re witnessing and write them down to help your brain cut down on storytelling. 

Be gentle with yourself 

I see so many of my clients layer on judgment when they don’t perform a certain way.

This is especially common with high-achievers. 

You may have a desire to use your voice and speak up for yourself (in this case speak to the fact that this project is out of scope for you) but that feels challenging. 

You’re not sure how to say it. What language should I use? Will it come off too aggressive? Will they question my value at the company? 

So what happens?

You start to feel self conscious and question your abilities. 

When this starts to happen, be gentle with yourself. 

Acknowledge the part that is fearful of speaking up. The fear is there for a reason. 

Perhaps when you were younger, you were reprimanded for speaking up. Or, you were told that it’s important to be respectful and not push back. 

Take note of your fear, and acknowledge it for what it is – a way to keep you safe. 

Use direct language

Being direct in communication can be challenging for some people. If you grew up being told it’s important to be polite (like me), being direct will feel edgy and aggressive. 

But oftentimes, what seems aggressive to those of us who worry about being impolite, doesn’t come off that way at all. 

Furthermore, being direct offers clarity. It lets the other person know exactly what you want and need, and you’re much more likely to find solutions this way. In my opinion, this is an incredibly generous and powerful way to lead! 

Being direct can look like:

  • Setting a clear intention for the conversation.
  • Speaking to what is, which means highlighting the facts and what you observed. 

For example, let’s go back to the original scenario I described. There’s this person at work who pushes boundaries and asks you to do things that are outside your scope of work. In this case, they asked you to take the lead on a marketing campaign that’s out of scope. 

How do you respond?

First do a brain dump of what you want to say. 

Then take a look at what you wrote and see what you can improve on. If you were on the receiving end of the message, how would you respond? Would you feel open or closed off?

One way to speak to this situation is to say, “This marketing campaign is out of my scope of work. Would it be helpful to talk about my role and responsibilities in more detail?”

Try that on for practice.

How does it feel? 

Direct language allows you to establish your boundary while keeping the dialogue open for questions and further clarity. 

Looking for more career and leadership support? Download our workbook, Attach to a Purpose, Not a Job to get clarity on what you want, faster! 

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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