How to Advocate for Yourself in the Workplace

By Nuria Gonzalo

Whether you are beginning a part-time job or internship, or have been working with a specific company for a while, setbacks at work can become an obstacle and may even make you question your potential. Setbacks can range from failing to meet a deadline, unfulfilled expectations, or expectations that did not fall within the job description you applied for. Typically, first-time interns won’t speak up because they feel too “new” and “inexperienced” to advocate for themselves. 

Advocating for yourself in the workplace is the most effective way to feel comfortable and valued in your current position. While the idea of self-advocacy might be simple, many struggle with how. How do I advocate for myself without seeming “rude” or making it seem like I refuse to do certain tasks I don’t feel comfortable with? Would I get fired if I communicate my concerns? 

Here are some tips on how to advocate for yourself when you do feel uncomfortable with a task at work or are experiencing a setback:

Take a moment to recognize your worth:

You know better than anyone what value you can bring to your position. You know your strengths and weaknesses. Too often, especially with internships or entry-level jobs, we tend to undervalue our worth because we are still “new” and are scared of making mistakes at work and disappointing someone. It is important to continuously remind yourself that you have that position for a reason and are a great asset to the team. Don’t be shy about the value you bring simply because of the level of your position. Once you recognize your value, it will be much easier for you to communicate your concerns and needs with your supervisor. Work with your manager, not against them, if you feel undervalued in the workplace. Communicate what you can bring to the table and ask for the opportunity to do so.

Be confident:

You know yourself better than anyone else! Be confident in your abilities and respect your boundaries and needs. If you’re asked to do a task that was not what you expected based on the job description, it is perfectly acceptable for you to take a step back and express your concerns directly to your supervisor. If you’re not comfortable talking to your supervisor, turn to a trusted colleague or Human Resources professional for advice. When communicating these concerns, remind yourself that job positions can have blurred lines that supervisors may not realize when distributing tasks. If you feel under attack, advocating for yourself becomes a more difficult task as you won’t be able to find a common ground with your supervisor. Self-advocacy can be hard, especially if you’re feeling unheard. It is important to separate your frustration from your needs.

Establish a communicative relationship with your supervisor and/or manager:
Having a direct line of communication with a supervisor is the best way to practice self-advocacy. This allows your supervisor to get to know you both professionally and personally. It forms a relationship that will make future conversations more comfortable and open. 

Establish a support network:
Build relationships with the people around you! Whether they are your co-workers, friends undergoing similar workplace experiences as yourself, or people who have experience resolving work conflicts, building a support network can allow you to consult with them for feedback and input when expressing your concerns. 

Assume good intentions:
If you are feeling frustrated, communicating your needs can become difficult and ineffective. While you do have a right to be frustrated if you experience a setback at work, it is important to assume good intentions when communicating concerns with your supervisor. Don’t assume your supervisor is “out to get you.” Instead, understand your strengths and allow your supervisor to establish a common ground.  Supervisors make mistakes too!

Using effective communication strategies, understanding your limits, and knowing your worth are all good tools to help you grow professionally and help you feel more confident advocating for yourself in the workplace.

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