Making Waves

Sometimes keeping your mouth shut can hurt you in the long run. Two experts teach us how -- and why -- to assert yourself.

Q: "How can I stick up for myself?"

A Life Coach Responds
Mel Robbins
Author of "Stop Saying You're Fine"

The reason we don't stand up for ourselves is that we want to avoid conflict. Say you come home from work to find that your partner has yet again left his breakfast dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher. This irks you to no end, but rather than make a fuss, you do the cleanup. You're opting for peace now instead of power later: What seems to be the easy, safe way out only hurts you in the long run. Not only do you feel slighted now, but the more you let things slide, the more it becomes a habit that gets embedded into your neurochemistry, making it that much harder to speak up next time. It's a one-two punch to your self-esteem. Furthermore, unexpressed anger is likely to build until you finally explode. Rage may activate the emotional energy you need to break the habit of silence, but you'll be acting from such negativity that nothing effective is likely to come of it.

Don't let keeping mum rob you of your power. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and have a conversation while the problem is still relatively small. My favorite strategy: Disarm the other person by starting with an apology: "I'm sorry, I should have spoken up sooner." Be honest about your fears: "I was afraid you'd get mad, or that you'd feel bad." Then clearly state the problem, how it makes you feel, and what you'd like to see change. That moves beyond nagging or putting someone on the defensive and empowers the other person to better take care of you without feeling criticized.

A Corporate Trainer Responds
Marcia Reynolds
Author of "Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction"

My female clients often tell me that in the workplace, their ideas are more likely to be ignored or killed than male coworkers'. The antidote isn't to pick a fight: Getting defensive makes you look weaker, not stronger. The best way to stick up for your ideas begins with some proper preparation.

First, consider what you could lose if you don't speak up. Resources and support for yourself or your team? The chance for a promotion? Next, acknowledge your strengths -- not just the obvious skills required for your job, but your unique abilities. Maybe you have a keen analytical eye, or a gift for enlisting support. Recall a moment of triumph, a time when you overcame a challenge. What five qualities enabled you to create this peak experience? Keep a success journal: Every time something goes well, note how you made it happen.

In the moment, if you're worried that expressing your opinion to a coworker could lead to a disagreement, start by acknowledging the value of the other person's perspective: "I can see why you feel the way you do. We have similar concerns. I have a different idea of how to approach this problem, based on my experiences." If you're interrupted or your ideas are ignored, then say, "Just a second. I'd like to get feedback on my idea before we move on." Take a moment to remember those earlier exercises. The more aware you are of what you have to offer, the more likely you are to share your insights and opinions with coworkers and higher-ups -- and to approach any workplace challenge with confidence and grace.

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