Advocating for Yourself: Getting Your Voice Out There!
Life gives us many opportunities to advocate for ourselves, at work, home, school, and in our social universe. Yet, many of us would rather remain less visible, trusting that others in our world will make meaningful choices on our behalf. You may be someone who knows what you believe, what you want and need, but find it much easier to remain silent and let others take control (and also assume the risks of being the decision maker). The reasons for this are many. Learning early in life that your opinions held little value, being fearful of not being liked or accepted, worrying over displeasing others, or not wanting to appear selfish, may get in the way of your voice being heard. Or, it just may be that you have not learned effective ways of communicating that puts your opinions and rights out there, while also showing respect for the opinions and rights of others.
There are distinct advantages to your being able to advocate successfully for yourself. Here are some of the most important:
- As you learn to demonstrate more control over your own life through speaking up, your self-esteem and self-confidence increase.
- Anxiety and stress reduce, as there is less chance for misunderstandings or conflicts when everyone knows what others are thinking or expecting.
- Relationships may be improved or preserved through discussion. When others know where you stand, they may develop more respect for your ideas and opinions and value your participation.
- Others may also feel more motivated to express their own opinions and needs.
- The chances of you feelingdisconnected from outcomes ortaken advantage of are reduced.
- Your overall visibility and energy around you are highlighted, as you articulate your thoughts.
- You learn to set critical boundaries for yourself by saying “no” when you mean “no”.
As you begin to take small steps to grow yourself through self-advocacy, here are some tips to consider:
- Be willing to own your opinions and feelings by using “I” statements. Saying something like, “I will need your portion of our report by 2:00 p.m. tomorrow”, or “I need more time to complete my research on this, so let’s schedule a meeting on Monday.” In personal relationships, you may use “I” statements by saying, “I would like to help, but have a prior commitment on Saturday.”
- When expressing negative feelings, use the three-part statement –
“When you do…(describe the behavior)…it affects me by (or "I feel...")(describe how the behavior affects you)…So, I’d prefer (or "I need you to")
(describe what you want/need).”
- Start changing behaviors first with situations that are theleast risky, not intense, difficult ones.
- It’s important, as you deliver your preferences, that you look at the person directly (if face-to-face) and be specific.
- Deliver your message in short, easy to understand sentences, respectfully offering (or asking for) clarification when needed.
A most important element of effectively advocating for yourself, especially if this is a new behavior, is to practice your script! Practice what you are going to say, at home or anytime you are by yourself. Prepare notes. Practice with friends or family. Pay attention to your message, your posture - lifting the upper body to allow full, relaxed breathing, and your tone of voice.
Realize that everyone, including you, has a need to feel valued. We do teach people how to treat us. Show respect for both yourself and others by advocating for your thoughts and needs, and listening to those of others in your life.
Remember that, in most situations, you have a right to be heard. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can possibly happen if I voice my feelings in a respectful manner?” More often than not, you will discover your fears are not based in reality. You will quickly understand that “finding and expressing your voice” was much easier than you thought!
- As you think back in your adult life, think about a situation were you able to feel confident in expressing yourself?
- Describe the emotions you were feeling at the time and afterward.
- What made this success possible for you?
- What value do you have around that?
- Who were you when you did that?
- What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
- In what other parts of your life do you live out that value?
- How can you access that success and repeat it in other situations?
- What limiting belief could be holding you back from experiencing that again?
- What are the costs of remaining passive?
- How do those costs influence the vision you have for how you want to live your life?
- What would you gain as you actively practice expressing your wants, needs, and opinions?
- How would that influence your “who”?
- What excites you about this?
- What is your heart saying?
- How would you sound as you present your opinions and ideas?
- What do you believe about your own ability to change in this area?
- What affirmative self-talk would be helpful in getting started?
- What could you do today that would help you to begin feeling confident advocating for yourself?