By Elana Lyn Gros
“Not speaking up once or twice might not be particularly stressful, but not standing up for ourselves over time can make us feel impotent, repressed, and emotionally exhausted,” says Danielle Harlan, the founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. “It can also affect our self-worth and self-confidence.” We spoke to a few experts to find out when you should advocate for yourself – and the best way to do it.
When A Colleague Takes Credit For Your Work
Unfortunately, many of us have been in this situation. “Instead of getting angry, gossiping or venting to friends, leverage this as an opportunity to become more assertive,” says Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster.com. If your boss is the one passing off your work as her own, Salemi suggests speaking with her privately to find out how you can get more involved in presenting your ideas to the team and clients.
When You Get Passed Up For A Promotion Or A Raise
You may be tempted to spend your lunch break updating your resume (or, you know, watching The Devil Wears Prada on repeat). Instead, take some time to calm down and collect your thoughts – and then try to get some answers. Salemi says you should schedule time on your boss’s calendar to factually review your accomplishments, responsibilities, skills and experiences. “It’s a chance for a conversation. You’ll hear what your boss has to say and be able to ask her how you can reach the next level,” she says. Explain that you want to use the experience as an opportunity to improve. Find out what you need to work on, and then create a professional development plan. Make sure that the items are all action-oriented, so that you can check them off and keep track of your progress. Then, set up a date to revisit the conversation.
When You See an Ethical Or Legal Red Flag
If you spot a legal or ethical problem, Harlan urges you to speak up. Although this may sound obvious, she acknowledges that it’s easier said than done when there is a lot at stake – including your job. “Putting your livelihood on the line to do what is right is a big deal, but going against your deeply held morals and values can be soul-crushing in the long run,” Harlan says.
When You Can Improve the Organisation
Most bosses love working with people who are proactive problem-solvers. So, if you have an idea that will make the organisation stronger – such as an external marketing plan, or a way to streamline costs – don’t keep it to yourself. “Speaking up doesn’t guarantee that the powers-that-be will listen, but you owe it to yourself and your organisation to put your best ideas forward,” Harlan says. “Plus, this will give you practice with asserting yourself productively, and you’ll get better at doing it over time.”
When Something Feels “Off”
Trust your gut! If something feels “off”, have a conversation. Harlan suggests scheduling a meeting to ask about the rationale behind the action, decision or change. “Be straightforward and sincere, rather than emotional,” she advises. In order to make an informed and thoughtful assessment of the situation, Harlan recommends responses such as, “Wow, that’s a lot to process. Let me take some time to think about it and get back to you.”
When You’re Being Harassed
If you’re stuck in a toxic work environment, advocating for yourself is imperative. Career expert Sara McCord implores employees to speak with their manager or human resources representative when experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination.
When asked why it’s important to stand up for yourself, Lauren McGoodwin, founder of the career advice resource Career Contessa, quoted Maya Angelou: “Each time a woman stands up for herself… she stands up for all women.” Preach, Maya.
“It’s extremely important for women to stand up for themselves in their professional and personal lives, not just because it builds confidence and respect from others, but also because they’re becoming role models for future working women,” McGoodwin says.