Why is it so easy for some people to advocate for themselves at work, while others struggle?
At a recent workshop, I asked the group if they found it hard to advocate for themselves. About half of the group answered “yes,” and the other half said “no”. The group mirrored my experience of leaders in the workplace. Some leaders have no problem telling you what they think. They aren’t worried about their impact—sometimes to the point that they come across as unbending or overly aggressive. Other leaders have a very hard time being assertive. The desire to be liked by others or the fear of being in the spotlight can seem daunting.
These leaders are challenged to find their inner confidence and develop the ability to advocate for themselves. Why do they face this barrier around speaking up for their thoughts and beliefs? Part of the reason may be a person’s style, which is influenced by factors such as whether they are an introvert or an extrovert, and by the family in which they were raised; part of the barrier may be the norms of their particular work culture.
Developing the inner confidence to self-advocate is like building muscle—the more you do it, the stronger you get, and the easier it becomes. Using the following verbal and non-verbal cues will help anyone project self-confidence, but not arrogance, while advocating for their ideas.
- Keep a firm but relaxed voice
- Speak with sincerity
- Maintain an appropriate volume for the situation
- Express yourself cooperatively and constructively
- Listen receptively
- Maintain direct eye contact
- Keep an open body stance—arms at sides, for example, rather than crossed over the chest
- Allow your natural expressions: smile when pleased, frown when upset
- I will stand up for the position in a respectful manner
- I will express myself directly and openly
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do” —Eleanor Roosevelt