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How and When To Stand Up For Yourself At Work

Author: Mike Scaletti

Standing up for yourself can be hard. This is true in any environment, but it can be especially true at work. When you feel like your job is potentially on the line, even if it's not, the temptation to just suck it up and avoid rocking the boat can be overwhelming. But the bottom line is our behavior influences how people treat us, so when a boss or colleague avoids giving you the credit you deserve, or the assignment you've earned, or asks you to do something uncomfortable, or takes advantage of your work ethic, if you don't stand up to them you are simply teaching them to repeat that behavior in the future.

If you want to avoid getting stepped on you have to show people that they will not get away with taking advantage of you. The 3 situations outlined below are especially tough, but you can take the lessons offered here and apply them to pretty much any workplace situation where someone is trying to bulldoze you.

Someone Steals Your Credit

We've all been there. We've done the work or come up with an idea only to have a colleague step up during a meeting and claim credit for it. It's easy to allow shock and anger to overwhelm you to the point where you don't respond at all, and that allows that colleague to gain the credit for the accomplishment and be emboldened to do it again.

On the other hand, if you confront them publically at the time it can lead to a conflict that can end up making any kind of reasonable conversation impossible, or worse, make you look like you're overreacting. You have to stand up for yourself, but how do you respond in a way that is productive and ensures it doesn't happen again?

First, stay calm and firm, while correcting your colleague's overstep. A useful way to approach the situation is to acknowledge any work or contributions they might have made while making it clear it was your idea or work in the first place. An example of this might be something along the lines of "Thank you for doing a great job of explaining how we might apply my overall marketing strategy to that situation. I'd love to broaden it by explaining how I originally came up with the concept and how we might apply it to our broader marketing approach."

After the meeting approach your colleague in private. Make it clear that while you would be happy to collaborate with them in the future, and will always acknowledge and praise them publically for their work and contributions, stealing credit for someone else's work is unacceptable. Make it clear that it will not be tolerated further and that if it happens again you will be including their supervisor in the conversation.

Your Needs and Goals are Not Being Acknowledged

If your boss keeps assigning you projects outside of your specialty or isn't using your skills to their full extent, if they are ignoring your requests or are overlooking your goals, then they might be failing to acknowledge the career trajectory you are attempting to set for yourself.

The first step to ensuring you are on the path you want to be on is to be honest with yourself about your communication to this point. Have you previously made it clear to your boss what your ultimate career goals are and what your ideal assignments look like? If not, it is time to do so, and you need to do so repeatedly.

Every job is ultimately going to include projects and assignments that are not ideal for us, but if you find yourself repeatedly being assigned projects that are far outside of what you've made clear is your ideal, that needs to be addressed.

One way to do that diplomatically is to attempt to translate success in the unwanted project into the dream assignment you actually want. Make it clear to your boss that the assignment is not your ideal, but that you understand it's important, and while you don't necessarily think it is the best use of your skills, you are going to give it your best. Then do so! Name the ideal assignment you'd like to pursue upon completion of this project, then schedule a review for it's completion. During the review show how you managed to take a less than ideal situation and turn it into success, and then remind them of your goals and the assignments you'd like to be given along with an explanation as to why you're the best person for the job.

Getting Thrown Under The Bus

When deadlines are missed or projects fall short of their goals, people will often look for a scapegoat. That scapegoat can be an individual or it can be an entire team, but if you are the target you need to know how to stand up for yourself.

The first thing to do is to acknowledge where you fell short. A missed deadline or goal is not the end of the world, and generally not due to one individual or even one team, but you need to step up and acknowledge your part in it. Make it clear that you understand the pressure this puts on the department or company as a whole, and that you are in this together. Once you have taken personal accountability, ask to schedule a meeting during which you can work to identify ALL the causes for the project falling short and make plans to address them.

Once that is done, make it clear that you would appreciate it if they addressed any future concerns about your or your team's performance with you directly and privately. Reiterate your desire to be successful going forward, but be firm that placing sole blame on any individual or team for a project's failings is neither constructive nor ideal for team morale.

In all of these situations, and many others, the key is to be tactful and respectful while also being firm. It's not always easy, as these situations can lead to elevated emotions, but at the end of the day it is how you keep yourself from being taken advantage of while also maintaining positive relationships and a good reputation in the workplace.

Remember though that these are all assuming good faith from your colleagues and bosses. If the situation repeats after you have taken steps to correct them, or if you are being polite and constructive and are still being told that you are over-reacting or that there isn't an issue, it is possible the situation has become abusive. In that case, the best way to stand up for yourself is simply to extricate yourself from the situation entirely, and there is no shame in that.

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