I still cringe when I think of the time I got my haircut during my teenage years. The hairdresser asked how I wanted it cut and I replied, “I don’t care. You choose.” In that moment, I gave away total control of how I looked to a complete stranger!
As a child, I never learned to clearly ask for what I wanted. I always said, “I don’t care” even when I did care. I didn’t want to rock the boat and create conflict, so I kept quiet instead of voicing my opinion or request.
Through lots of personal development work, I slowly improved in speaking up. In fact, I went a little overboard and became a touch demanding at times. Telling my mom, “I need you to do this by tomorrow” was probably not the best way to treat her! Over time, I’ve slowly learned when to speak up and when not to speak up.
What is Self-Advocating?
Though it often doesn’t come naturally, speaking up and self-advocating is a vital professional and personal skill. What is it? It’s the ability to say what we need, want and hope for in life and at work. It’s the capacity to ask questions humbly, and admit mistakes. It’s about standing up for yourself and others in the face of large or small injustices.
Why You Need to Speak Up at Work
Let’s talk about work. When you don’t self-advocate, your approach to your career is passive. You rely on your manager to know what is best for you, how you’d like to progress, and what factors and peer behaviors are impacting your work. But not all managers can keep track of exactly what’s going on in their team member’s day-to-day life, and zero managers can read minds. Without communicating what you want, and what is standing in your way, you are relying on the unknown to shape your career and life.
Much of my coaching focuses on speaking up and asking for what you want. And I don’t just mean asking for a raise or a new position. It can be small things too, like when a colleague does something that irritates you, or when a client asks for more than the contract stipulates. These are examples of speaking up for your own good, as well as the good of your team or organization.
But How Do You Self-Advocate?
So how do you do it? I asked Jezra Kaye, a public speaking coach who works with people to improve public speaking skills. Her company is called Speak Up for Success; she’s the perfect person to turn to for self-advocacy help! Here are her five steps for asking for what you want.
Asking For What You Want at Work: 5 Steps
- Know Your Value— What do you bring to your company or team that they would otherwise have to do without? What have you accomplished for them? Can you put a dollar figure on the clients you’ve won, or the time you’ve saved through good practices? Even intangibles like increasing team morale can sometimes be quantified (“Our team lost only one member last year; the other teams all lost two or more”).
- Do Your Research— What do others at your level, in your field, get paid? How fast have others in your company been promoted? Are you being fairly compensated (often, women and people of color are not)? Should you be making more than others, because you supervise more people, manage more projects, or have special expertise?
- Develop Your Strategy— You know your manager! Are they best approached at 8am on Monday morning? Over drinks on Thursday night? After a difficult project has wrapped? Should you make an appointment, or have a casual conversation? Do they need time to process, or pressure to decide? And WHAT is the argument that will win them over?
- Plan Your Speech— Don’t leave this important conversation to chance! Work out what you’re going to say, and then…
- Practice, Practice, PRACTICE
Look, asking for what you want can make you uncomfortable. It can make all of us uncomfortable. The truth is, there is a very slim chance you will get what you want unless you ask. Follow these five steps and give it a shot.
Do you have a story about self-advocacy in your own life? Maybe a time where it made all the difference for you, or a time that it could have? Let’s share experiences. Leave a comment below, send me an email, or find me on Twitter.