The past few years have been tough for all working professionals. You’ve worked hard for what you accomplished—whether that’s starting a new job, scoring a new position or taking on new responsibilities.
So why is it still hard to learn how to stand up for yourself at work?
Even seasoned professionals can feel intimidated by the office politics we all navigate and the constantly changing “workplace expectations” we’re trying to adopt.
Well, today is the day we face our fears. Today is the day you learn to stand up for yourself at work.
Sinking in the Sea of the Overwhelmed
Take a moment and think about your current work situation. You are sitting at home or the office—probably in front of the computer—ready to start your day. You open up your task list to see horror—what feels like a never-ending series of assignments with tight deadlines.
Your inbox is constantly pinging as your email counts climb (the lucky ones are still in the double digits; some of us hit triple digits by mid-morning). You’re steadily completing tasks but worry about sacrificing other areas of your life, especially if you are working from home. WFH gives us the flexibility to determine our schedules, but we tend to overestimate how much workload we can actually handle.
These elements can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and stressed — and understandably so! Say something instead of brushing it off as just being “part of work.” There is nothing wrong with admitting that you feel overwhelmed or have too much on your plate.
We’re human, and we experience many emotions every day when it comes to working. Being overwhelmed significantly influences basically everything you do, not just work. Any professional’s goal is to do the best job you can, but you aren’t helping anyone if you don’t communicate when you need help.
How to Deal with the Overwhelming Feeling
Unfortunately, your managers and leaders aren’t Professor X. They can’t read what’s on your mind, and if you are working from home, they definitely can’t see that you are overwhelmed.
There are plenty of ways to deal with being overwhelmed at work, but the first and probably the best thing to do is talk to your manager. We are human, which means we have a finite amount of energy and capacity. Remember, you don’t have to be “on” at every moment of the day to be productive.
What happens when you say something? Suppose there isn’t enough time to finish your tasks and meet those deadlines. Depending on your work environment— which is hopefully a positive one — your manager might work with you to figure out a new strategy instead of leaving you to figure it out. Set the boundary, stand up for yourself, and let your leadership know when too much is too much.
“I Respectfully Disagree”
There will always be moments when you disagree with your colleagues, especially in workplaces containing people of different backgrounds, experiences and approaches. You might not agree with an idea or think that a task should be handled differently.
Whatever the situation, there is a way to disagree and stand your ground without cursing out your colleague or jumping on the Zoom and telling Nancy that she is absolutely nuts for not agreeing with you. That approach may make an interesting TikTok video, but I can guarantee that it won’t produce good results in the long run.
How to Respectfully Disagree
There’s an art to disagreeing and ending the conversation respectfully. It’s called productive disagreement, and they’ve written books on it! The most important thing to remember? Listen to the opposing side. Not to formulate your next response. Really listen and try to understand where they are coming from.
I get it. Obviously, this approach is not the easiest thing to do during a heated argument. But how you approach someone during an argument says a lot about how you can handle your own at different moments. You can stand up for yourself and teach people how to treat you without talking down to them or pitting yourself against them.
Listen to the opposing ideas, acknowledge your differences, stand your ground, and make it known if you still disagree. Work together to find common ground even as you maintain respect for one another.
Respect their stance, and they should respect yours. Remember, you can get your point across when standing up for yourself without creating a dramatic moment that could make you go viral or even canceled.
Don’t Let Things Fester
Sometimes colleagues can be the worst. Let’s say you put together an entire presentation, did most of the research, created the slides and accounted for every scenario. At the same time, the colleague you worked with only really picked the colors and did 10% of the research.
Presentation day has arrived. In the end, your colleague takes credit for your work. But you don’t say anything, which results in them getting the promotion you worked hard for.
Whatever your reasons for staying quiet, many of us who end up in this situation continue not to speak up. But we will let it sit and fester.
By choosing not to stand up for yourself, you deprive yourself of opportunities that your hard work earns you. Meanwhile, keeping these feelings in leads to burnout, resentment, poor performance, and more.
Remember, you can stand up for yourself without getting disrespectful. When you decide to speak up, take a moment to think about the situation. Calm yourself down so you can present the facts to back up what you are saying. Don’t let an opportunity pass you by just because you were afraid to speak up for yourself.
Be Your Biggest Supporter
This may sound familiar coming from me, but it makes it no less accurate, now more than ever— you are your biggest supporter. While HR says they are there for you, in reality, HR is there to help the company.
If you’ve read my book, you know I’m a big advocate for being your own HR and people function, especially when it comes to having the courage and confidence to stand up for your values and needs in the workplace. Doing so can be intimidating, especially if you are in a room filled with management and hoping they’ll respond positively, not with “You’re fired.”
But even if the latter happens, you still found your voice, all because you built up your confidence and acted on it. That’s an essential part of life—standing up for yourself (respectfully) despite an uncertain outcome.
Standing up for yourself can be intimidating to just about anyone, no matter their professional experience. Instead of diving into the deep end, try starting small. This could be saying “no” to an assignment that will put you over your weekly hours or setting a boundary of not having meetings on a Friday.
Those small moments of standing up for yourself can lead to bigger acts and help you grow personally and professionally. Remember, you are your most important advocate and the one person who controls your career. Be ready for the moments when you need yourself the most.
There are going to be times when work feels overwhelming. That’s OK, so don’t keep it hidden away. Say something and do something to change the situation.
Today is the day you’ll take a stand for yourself and admit when too much is too much.