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Why Standing Up for Yourself at Work Is Worth It

Bill Howatt  Bill Howatt
Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity, Organizational Performance

This op-ed was originally published in The Globe and Mail on January 18, 2019.

It’s late in the day and your manager has just asked you to handle one more assignment—and it needs to be done by morning. It means you won’t be getting off work on time, and likely will still have some work to do at home later in the evening. Such end-of-day requests that are due the next morning have become a new trend over the past few weeks.

You want to demonstrate that you’re a committed team player, but the extra requests are starting to cut into both family and personal time, and it’s stressing you out.

Though you feel frustrated, you don’t feel confident enough to say anything to your manager, as you’re concerned it may hurt your career path or put your job at risk.

This micro skill focuses on self-advocating and how it can be beneficial for your total health—which includes your physical and mental health and your life at home and at work.


Self-advocating is the action of speaking up for one’s self to achieve a desired outcome. The goal for self-advocating is to have some positive benefit on one or more areas of your total health.

Improving your ability to self-advocate begins with being clear about both your values (for example, what’s most important to you and why) and your rights.

When done forcefully but respectfully, self-advocating is not about making demands or threats, or being overly aggressive or angry. It’s about being assertive in asking questions and clearly defining what you are and are not willing to do. It’s simply expressing what you want and why in a logical and respectful manner, with the hope the other side, in this case your manager, will accept your point of view and agree to your request.

The first step for self-advocating is to get the facts in their proper context and then evaluate the pros and cons for acting and not acting. The next step is to decide whether you’ll state your position at this time, and if so how.


We can be clear that we want to self-advocate but not feel we have the self-confidence or skills to communicate our point of view effectively. This doesn’t need to be a negative; it can be an opportunity to ask someone for coaching to practice our approach or to take some assertiveness training. Often, a person who isn’t confident at self-advocating will have more than one area of their life where they have regret and stress that may be accumulating.

Our mental health can, over time, be negatively impacted when we find ourselves in situations where we feel powerless or stressed, and know we’re not happy with a situation, but don’t always know why.

Additionally, our mental health risk can be higher if we feel we’re trapped in a situation that’s compromising our core values. For example, exercise and family time may be important to you, but because of your work situation—your manager repeatedly coming to you with new demands on your time late in the work day—you have no energy or time to enjoy them. This can become a formula for eroding your mental health, life satisfaction and physical health.


Effective self-advocating begins with being clear on why you want to act and then clearly and calmly communicating what you want, without feelings of guilt or fear.

When practiced and developed, the self-advocating micro skill can help you learn how to respectfully tell others what you’re thinking, and what you would like to have happen. Here, you want to let your manager know the impact of these requests, that they are adding to your stress and preventing you from spending quality time with your family, and how you would rather handle these demands instead.

Four steps for self-advocating:

1. Listen for an emotional alarm—Our emotions automatically tell us when we have a difference between what we want and have. So in this example, you’re ready to go home but your manager asks you to do more work. This makes you frustrated. At these moments, our emotional alarms fire off. Commit to not self-advocate when your emotions are hot. There’s increased risk for saying things you may not really mean. Pause and move to the next step.

2. Verify—Take a second to gain your composure. Why? Because sometimes we have false emotional alarms, meaning we can react to something emotional that’s not really the issue. It’s really something else that’s upsetting us, and we’re projecting (for example, you had an argument with a spouse earlier in the day and now every demand is setting you off). Be critical, and be sure the emotions you’re feeling are due to the current situation. Once you’re clear on what’s driving your negative emotions, move on to the next step.

3. Decide if you need to act—Not every situation requires speaking up. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter, and it may be best to let it go and move on. Take a moment to think about what you want, remember your core values and the benefits and consequences for acting and not acting. Decide whether you want to self-advocate your point of view as you want to get a different outcome and then consider whether you have the confidence to make your case or you need to get some support. When you’re ready, move to the next step.

4. Frame and deliver your message—Before you self-advocate your point of view it’s helpful to keep in mind that the other person may not agree. Framing your message is about being clear on what you want and why, how you will ask, and what you’ll do if you don’t get what you want. Self-advocating may not get you what you want; it’s about feeling empowered that you acted to express your point of view and desired outcome. In the example here, you, upon reflection might choose to speak up and ask your manager if they are aware how these late-day requests are impacting you that it is affecting your personal time and creating stress on your family life. You can suggest to your manager that they make their demands earlier in the day or wait for the next day. You need to raise awareness, ask for what you want instead, and aim to get agreement with your manager.

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