Self-advocacy at work: 7 tips to help you become a better self-advocate
Last updated on: February 13, 2023
Do you find the idea of advocating for yourself intimidating?
Does the very thought of standing up for yourself make you shiver?
Or, maybe you’re a perfectionist who’s never satisfied with the outcomes of your work (because it can always be better, right?) and don’t believe you deserve anything more than you already have?
Whether you’re an introvert, too modest, or suffer from imposter syndrome, self-advocacy might not come easy to you.
However, if you find yourself in a rut — in your professional or personal life — tooting your own horn might be an injection you need to stop going around in circles.
So, to help you become a better self-advocate, in this blog post, we’ll cover:
- What self-advocacy at work means,
- The 3 elements of self-advocacy,
- Examples of self-advocacy at work,
- Why it’s important to advocate for yourself, and
- Tips for advocating for yourself.
Let’s get to it!
What does it mean to advocate for yourself at work?
Although originally conceptualized as a skill that should help people with disabilities, self-advocacy became pertinent in all the situations where it’s important to fight for yourself and your rights.
Namely, self-advocacy or advocating for yourself signifies your ability to effectively communicate your needs and rights.
This, in turn, allows you to make more informed decisions and take responsibility for them.
Consequently, this means that self-advocacy is inextricably linked with:
- Healthy work relationships,
- A successful career, and
- Overall satisfaction with your work.
However, it’s one thing to know what self-advocacy is, and completely another to practice it at work.
So, to make it easier for you, in the following paragraphs, we’ll break down self-advocacy into 3 elements.
3 Elements of self-advocacy
What if we told you that being an effective self-advocate is easier than you think?
Namely, all you need to do is master its 3 key elements:
- Understanding your needs — You should learn to listen to yourself and recognize what is it you need at any given moment.
- Being aware of the support system — Knowing who to turn to for help is an important part of your self-advocacy journey.
- Communicating your needs clearly — The final piece of the puzzle is being able to articulate what you want openly and understandably.
However, before we dive into the practical part of this blog post, let’s make sure we understand what self-advocacy in the workplace looks like.
Examples of self-advocacy in the workplace
If your first association to self-advocacy is discussing a raise with your boss, you’re not the only one, believe us.
However, there’s more to self-advocacy than asking for a raise or advance payment.
Let’s look at some other examples of self-advocacy.
🔸 Example #1: Advocating for yourself when you’re a victim of a workplace bullying
There’s probably no greater workplace problem and no better reason for self-advocacy than standing up for yourself when you’re a victim of bullying at work.
Unfortunately, statistics are grim — 40% of workers in the US suffer from some type of bullying.
So, if you’re among the luckless ones, you should definitely take steps toward self-advocacy.
For instance, you can advocate for yourself by talking to an HR representative or your manager.
The important thing is not to stay silent and accept your fate — rather use this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to hone your self-advocacy skills.
🔸 Example #2: Advocating for yourself when you have a disability
Persons with disabilities, sadly, may have more opportunities to advocate for themselves in the workplace. This is especially true if a company doesn’t have a diversity, equity, and inclusion policy.
For example, people with disabilities might need to ask for:
- A different sitting arrangement,
- A flexible schedule, or
- A change in job responsibilities.
Why is it important to advocate for yourself at work?
Is the whole idea of self-advocacy a bit too much for you?
Do you think the whole concept is merely glorified bragging?
Let us reassure you — self-advocacy is an integral part of a healthy and positive work environment.
Advocating for yourself doesn’t mean you’re selfish or arrogant but rather aware of your needs and rights. As it happens, its consequences can be astonishing!
Let’s see what the main benefits of advocating for yourself at work are.
Benefit #1: Self-advocacy helps you communicate your needs
The first and most obvious reason for self-advocacy is that it helps you communicate your needs to your coworkers.
This form of open communication is a prerequisite for effective collaboration.
During our research, we contacted Sara Anderson, a Peak Performance Coach for Executive Women, who shared her view:
“One of the biggest workplace issues is burnout, and by self-advocating for your needs, you can assert yourself and make sure that your contributions and value are recognized and appreciated.”
When we take into consideration the global problem of burnout, the need for advocacy and communicating your needs becomes even more critical.
Benefit #2: Self-advocacy helps to create a healthy work environment
No workplace is immune to difficult people, as anyone who has ever worked could unfortunately testify.
As communication and working with these sometimes overbearing people can be quite overwhelming, self-advocacy skills come in handy.
They help us:
- Stand up for ourselves,
- Avoid toxic relationships with our coworkers, and
- Build mutually respectful relationships.
According to Dr. Carolina Estevez, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, advocating for yourself at work is an inevitable part of a positive workplace atmosphere:
“Self-advocacy can help ensure that you get the support and resources you need to be successful in your job, and it can help to create an atmosphere of fairness and respect in the workplace.
It also helps build up your confidence and makes you feel more secure in your job.
When you advocate for yourself, you show that you recognize the importance of actively creating a healthy and productive work environment.”
In other words, by advocating for ourselves, we’re showing others that we value our relationships with them and respect them enough to be honest with them.
Benefit #3: Self-advocacy helps your career prospects
According to a survey, if faced with a lack of developmental opportunities, almost 60% of employees would leave their job.
Otherwise stated, feeling stuck at your job leads to dissatisfaction — so much so, that it sometimes leads to quitting.
Luckily, there is an antidote — self-advocacy.
Namely, when you feel your career is as stale as old beer, maybe it’s time you take matters into your own hands and express your discontent.
It might lead to new opportunities, as Estevez states:
“Self-advocacy can also create career opportunities by demonstrating that you take the initiative and care about your professional development. Ultimately, advocating for yourself at work will not only benefit you, but it will also benefit your workplace as a whole.”
As an additional advantage, your work environment might also profit from your self-advocacy — which leads us to our next and final benefit.
Benefit #4: Self-advocacy helps you help others
Lastly and most importantly for all of you selfless workers out there, self-advocacy is not selfish.
As we mentioned above, when you stand up for yourself, your whole team can benefit from it.
In other words, self-advocacy is somewhat like a public service.
By advocating for yourself, you:
- Demonstrate to others what you bring to the table and prove your place in the organization.
- Show your coworkers they can count on your help.
- Lead by example and inspire others to stand up for themselves too.
Now that we’ve seen the main benefits of advocating for yourself in the workplace, it’s time we help you become the best self-advocate you can be.
7 Tips for advocating for yourself at work
Self-advocacy is not reserved for assertive and confident people. Anyone can learn to stand up for themselves and fight for their rights.
If you’re not sure how to do just that, worry not — as usual, we’ve got you covered.
In the following paragraphs — with the help of our experts — we bring you 7 tips on how to become a master self-advocate.
Tip #1: Become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses
Let’s start with ancient wisdom and remind you of Socrates’ famous declaration that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.
So, to be able to improve anything, including yourself, first, you need to know what exactly needs refining.
For that, you need to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. In the words of Socrates, “Know yourself”.
Namely, a little introspection goes a long way — ask yourself what you’re good at and in what areas you could use some work.
That is exactly what Kamila Wolyniec, a Career Coach for Quiet Achievers, told us when we asked for her opinion on this matter:
“Self-awareness is critical. You need to understand what you want and how you can achieve your goal with what you already have. Then, you should be aware of what you lack and what you might need from others to succeed in your intentions.
When you understand yourself, your needs, your goals, your strengths — what you can bring to the table — it’s easier to advocate for yourself.”
Not surprisingly, self-awareness is the first condition we need to satisfy if we want to become better self-advocates.
Tip #2: Know your rights
It’s not enough to know your strengths and weaknesses — you need to know your rights, too.
In other words, to be able to successfully advocate for yourself, you should be familiar with your rights — both within the company and in general.
In our search for answers, we contacted Crystal Jackson, a Writer with an MA in Psychology, who shared her view with us:
“One way to begin advocating for yourself is by understanding your rights and responsibilities in the workplace. This includes being aware of any legal protections or benefits to which you are entitled, such as fair pay or a safe working environment. It also includes being aware of any performance expectations or job requirements.
Knowing these details can give you a clear understanding of what you are entitled to and what they are accountable for.”
Our contributor Estevez agrees with her and highlights how important knowing your rights is for your self-esteem:
“Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of your workplace to ensure an understanding of what you’re entitled to. Knowing your rights can give you confidence when advocating for yourself.”
This is proof knowledge is power and that it can serve as a nice ego boost when advocating for yourself.
Tip #3: Ask for help
To be a good self-advocate, you should be well aware of your needs — you must know what to ask for.
One form of self-advocacy is asking for help, as Wolyniec pointed out:
“When you recognize that you haven’t got all the resources that you need to be able to deal with the situation, whatever that may be, you shouldn’t refrain from asking for help. Although society usually considers it a weakness, to me, it’s a sign of strength.
By asking for help, you communicate to others that you’re aware of what you want, and you’re asking them to support you.
It also shows vulnerability and humility, and I think it takes a lot of courage to do that.“
Accepting that you need help means you’re aware of your limitations and are willing to communicate your needs.
Anderson adds that you should nurture healthy relationships with your coworkers:
“Build relationships with colleagues and managers who can support and advocate for you.”
Making sure your supervisors know exactly what you want leads you one step closer to being a good self-advocate.
Tip #4: Know your worth
To successfully advocate for yourself, you should know your worth and the value you bring to the company.
In Wolyniec’s words:
“You need to understand and recognize the strengths that you bring to the company and the good qualities that you have to offer. Your skills, qualities, personality, and experiences made you who you are. They made you resilient.
Moreover, you need to recognize that your worth is not linked to external things. It’s really about believing that you are enough as you are. Even if you see some gaps, try to look at them as growth opportunities.”
So, before you request something from your superiors or stand up for yourself in any other way, make sure you are well aware of your worth.
Tip #5: Communicate directly, but respectfully
Another important aspect when advocating for yourself is effective and direct communication.
In other words, ask directly for what you need.
Jackson elaborates on that matter:
“This includes clearly and confidently expressing any needs, wants, and ideas. It also incorporates being able to listen actively and respond to the needs and wants of others.
When communicating with colleagues, it is essential to avoid being confrontational or aggressive; instead, be open and respectful of others’ opinions.
Effectively negotiating and compromising when necessary is a vital aspect of self-advocacy. Being able to navigate and find common ground in difficult situations helps to achieve personal goals while also maintaining positive relationships with colleagues.”
In other words, fostering respectful communication with your colleagues is an essential part of being an exemplary self-advocate.
Tip #6: Show off your achievements
One way to make use of both transparent communication and good relationships with your coworkers is to flaunt your achievements.
It’s a lot less scary and braggy than it sounds — you just need to make people, especially your boss, aware of your efforts at work.
And, don’t you worry — showing off your accomplishments won’t be perceived as boasting. Sometimes, your managers just need a little help in realizing your value in the company. There’s nothing wrong with being the one to lend a helping hand.
Tip #7: Practice assertiveness
Last but not least, you should practice assertiveness. It plays a crucial role in self-advocacy, as Jackson pointed out:
“Assertiveness involves the ability to express yourself confidently and directly, all the while being considerate of the rights and needs of others. Setting personal boundaries and standing up for yourself when necessary, without being hostile or confrontational, is an important aspect of assertiveness.”
Moreover, she explains how you can be assertive:
“One way to practice assertiveness is to set specific, measurable, and achievable goals. This can be as simple as setting a goal to speak up in a meeting or to ask for a raise. By setting specific and achievable goals, you can begin to build the confidence and skills necessary to advocate for yourself in the workplace.”
However, Jackson highlights the main thing about self-advocacy that we should keep in mind:
“Self-advocacy is not about elevating yourself above others or ignoring the needs and wants of others. It is about asserting yourself and your rights while also being mindful and respectful of the rights and needs of others. It requires striking a delicate balance between standing up for yourself and being considerate of those around you.”
To sum up, when advocating for yourself, don’t forget to take other people’s rights and needs into account. Only if you do that, will you be able to call yourself a successful self-advocate.
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Wrapping up: Self-advocacy isn’t bragging
Standing up for yourself is an integral part of a healthy work environment. That’s why you should give self-advocacy a chance. Keep in mind that advocating for yourself doesn’t make you selfish — it can even help your whole team.
For those of you who find it especially unsavory, to make it more palatable, we’ve divided self-advocacy into 3 elements:
- Understanding your needs,
- Being aware of the support system, and
- Communicating your needs clearly.
You’ll find these bite-size pieces easier to digest, especially with the help of our tips.
We’ll leave you with the enlightening words of Maya Angelou:
“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”
✉️ What about you? Do you advocate for yourself at work? Do you find it challenging? Do you have any additional tips on how to self-advocate in the workplace?
Share your experience and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may include your answers in this or future posts. And, if you found this blog useful, share it with someone you think would also benefit from it.