Today I want to talk about something that has taken me many years to learn. I believe our society looks down on those who speak up for themselves, especially women. If I had a nickel for every time an assertive women was called bossy, I wouldn’t have to work another day in my life.
Sometimes I am shocked by how poorly people treat each other. I am taken aback by a comment at work or I am flabbergasted that someone would embarrass their friend in front of others on purpose. I used to keep my mouth shut when these types of things happened to me. I was more concerned with getting people to like me than I was about demanding respect. I thought that I could build a solid reputation by being a doormat.
As I tried to further my career, I learned that people don’t often realize that they’re acting poorly and being disrespectful. I also learned that being a doormat does not build a positive reputation. One day, while I was helping my mother grocery shop, I was recalling some negative interaction I had experienced with a coworker. She looked at me and said, “You have to stand up for yourself. You need to teach people how you want to be treated.” That piece of advice really stuck with me. I realized I had to tell people when they were being disrespectful. I had to describe what I needed from them. I had to stand up for myself.
So how do you teach people? Speaking up and advocating can seem really scary, but here are a few things you can start now that will help:
- Keep eye contact with the person. It will be a lot harder for someone to intimidate you if you look them right in the eye. Making eye contact will subtly change your body language and prevents you from inadvertently sending the message that you’re nervous or scared.
- Make allies with others in the room. A lot of negative experiences for me happened during meetings (being interrupted, being told I didn’t know what I was talking about, etc.). If you know you’re going to enter a situation with multiple people where you’re likely to be disrespected, pull some of those people aside beforehand and ask for their help. An example: I knew I was going to attend a meeting with one coworker who always interrupted me. I pulled a few other teammates aside prior to that meeting and told them, “Hey, I really want to practice speaking up in meetings. Can you help me out if someone interrupts me? I want to make sure my voice is heard.” This alerted them to my plight without naming names and it made them watchful. Most people want to help. Knowing you have allies in that stressful situation will boost your confidence.
- Give feedback right away. There have been plenty of situations where I should have said something during the bad situation, but I hesitated and decided to wait. I would tell myself that I would talk to the person later, and then my confidence would fade and I wouldn’t say anything. Don’t do that. If someone interrupts you or says something hurtful, tell them right away. Say “___ bothered me. I would appreciate it if you could share feedback by ____ (examples: telling me in private, not dressing me down in front of the team, etc.).” Using this kind of language makes the situation about you and your needs rather than placing blame on them. It also forces you to include a suggestion on what they need to do differently. People do much better when they are given specifics.
These tips have really helped me in my job and in my personal life. It’s a crazy world out there, but we are all in this together. We need to take care of ourselves. What tips would you recommend? Have you ever been in a situation where you taught the other person how you wanted to be treated?