How To Stand Up For For Yourself More In 2019, Because You’re Your Own Best Advocate
A new year is coming, and it's a good opportunity to look at your work, your relationships and your needs, and improve your situation using your own voice. Yes, you can definitely do it — and you have the power to make real change. However, being your own advocate — standing up for yourself, and for what you want and need, without waiting for somebody else to come forward and argue your case — can be very difficult. Between not wanting to appear too "aggressive" — whatever that means — or not having the tools to assess your rights in the first place, advocating for yourself can be a tricky skill, but an important one. Why not make 2019 the year you learn how to do it well?
You've likely been your own advocate in many ways your whole life: when you applied for jobs and promotions, put your hand up for challenging opportunities at college, or told your partner and family that you need to change careers even though they disapprove, you're asserting yourself and communicating your needs. The past year has seen an influx of women advocating for themselves politically with huge energy and success, fighting for their future loudly and assertively. However, there's another country that needs an advocate, and that's the nation of you — and you're its most important voice. Here's how to harness it.
1. Know Your Rights
You're a powerful self-advocate when you have all the facts about your obligations — whether it's to your bank, your cable company, your tax office, or your employer. It's always important to know your rights at work, says the American Association Of University Women; they explain that "the rights of employees are protected by federal, state, and local laws, as well as by common law, for discriminatory or illegal behavior by their employers."
Knowing where you stand wherever you are gives you power. Make 2019 the year where you research things that seem worrying or go against any contract or agreement you've signed. Places like the AAUW and FindLaw can help you locate the right laws for your state. If you find yourself in a situation where things need to change, the next step is to speak up about it.
2. Practice Speaking Up For Yourself
Speaking up for your own needs and priorities can be difficult. The social psychologist Adam Galinsky explained in a TED talk that "two things really matter" when it comes to making your voice heard: "The first: you seem powerful in your own eyes. The second: you seem powerful in the eyes of others. When I feel powerful, I feel confident, not fearful; I expand my own range. When other people see me as powerful, they grant me a wider range." How can you feel more powerful and make other people give you more access in a situation? Can you practice the speech you're going to make in the bathroom mirror? Stand confidently? Garner goodwill beforehand? Focus on your own sense of power, perceived and otherwise, to make it easier.
3. Set Strong Boundaries At Work
Bustle recently asked 283 millennial women about their work-life balance, and found that 75.6 percent of them felt they couldn't speak up at work about setting boundaries or a healthier work culture. Clearly, being our own advocates in the workplace is very difficult. However, it's very important. "Being your own advocate isn’t just about managing your own workload — it’s about making sure you’re being the most effective, efficient, and valuable member of the team you can be," Molly Donovan wrote for The Muse. Whether you're negotiating for better pay, a more achievable to-do list, or more opportunities, your self-advocacy is what will set you apart and make things happen.
Stymied on how to set good boundaries and assert your needs at work? Expert Deborah Kolb, writing for the Harvard Business Review, suggested looking at the bigger picture. "The issue should be important to you, but your desired outcome should not only benefit you personally but also benefit your organization, as a result of your increased productivity and commitment and new cultural norms that allow colleagues to achieve the same," she wrote. Your negotiation at work isn't just about you; it's about your coworkers and the organization in general, and that bigger perspective can help you craft some truly impressive self-advocacy.
4. ... And At Home
Standing up for yourself isn't just about refusing to be bullied by a coworker or pushing back at a rude salesperson. It's also about what you accept from others in your personal life. “Boundaries are the limits you place on how much others can ask of you, verbally or otherwise,” psychotherapist Tina Tessina told Healthy Way. All relationships involve a bit of give and take, but people who cross your boundaries or exploit them aren't doing you any favors.
Being an advocate for yourself means asserting what you do and do not want from your relationships and holding firm when people try to push those boundaries. It can be very tricky, particularly when the person you're talking to might be volatile, or if you're managing the effects of trauma, but ultimately boundaries protect you. Need some guidance on how to set boundaries in your personal life? Therapists at TalkSpace have an excellent guide on advocating for good boundaries in your relationships.
5. Examine What's Holding You Back
Let's be real: sometimes being an advocate for yourself is tough because of your own internal biases — yes, against yourself. It's time for some tough self-examination. What's holding you back from standing up for yourself? Are you worried about reprisal and revenge from others, being seen as "aggressive," or causing a bother? Do you have specific experiences in your past that make self-advocacy troubling for you?
Unfortunately, for many women the fear of self-advocacy is rooted in gender norms. If you worry that you'll be seen as shouty and b*tchy if you stand up for yourself, scientist Vivian Siegel wrote for the American Society of Cell Biology, "Know that your discomfort at self-advocacy is caused by the gender stereotype itself. It is indeed something outside yourself and is shared by members of our community, including you." Unconscious bias against women's self-advocacy is widespread and common, she points out, whether inside the scientific community or in society in general. It's natural to think like this, but it's also important to circumvent it: challenge the bias whenever you find yourself thinking it. Women can and should stand up for themselves when they need or want something.
6. Speak Up For Others And They'll Speak Up For You
Self-advocacy can be lonely and nerve-wracking, so experts have a workaround. "When I've asked the question around the world when people feel comfortable speaking up, the number one answer is: "When I have social support in my audience; when I have allies," Galinsky said in his TED talk. "So we want to get allies on our side. How do we do that? Well, one of the ways is be a mama bear. When we advocate for others, we expand our range in our own eyes and the eyes of others, but we also earn strong allies."
Need help at work? Bond with other people and help fight their battles, so that they'll feel comfortable fighting yours. Want to draw personal boundaries? Tell friends or other family members about your needs so that you have support, even if it's not in the room with you. Even if we have to do the work of speaking up, it can be psychologically powerful to know there's a small army behind us — or just one person on our side.
7. Communicate Clearly
You've come to the meeting or the dinner table, or whatever situation you've chosen to stand up for yourself. You've made alliances, boosted your own confidence, researched what you need and understood your own boundaries. So how do you get your point across?
The NGO Advocacy For Inclusion has a comprehensive list of tactics to help you in the moment you self-advocate. They suggest planning whatever you're wanting to say, and keeping things focussed. "What is the main message you want to get across? Remember your issue!" they say. "Communicate clearly; use a clear voice that is loud enough to be heard. If other ways to communicate help you, have them ready to use." Preparation is key and you'll have more success if you gear up appropriately beforehand.
Being your own advocate in 2019 might be tough, but it'll be worth it. Here's to getting what we want for the next 12 months, fearlessly.