Self-Advocacy is the ability to speak up effectively on our behalf to bring forward our interests, needs, and rights so that we can achieve career success. 

However, many of us feel uncomfortable advocating for ourselves for one reason or another. Women tend to feel less comfortable when it comes to making their achievements visible, communicating their value, and articulating their ambitions. 

Being able and willing to exert our rights and assert our own best interests enables us to be successful and fulfilled, opening many doors of opportunities for more expansive lives and careers.

 Myths Around Self-Advocacy:

Several myths or limiting beliefs make us shy away from asking. Let’s review six of the most common and how to overcome them.  

Myth # 1: Our work should speak for itself. 

By having this belief, we hold others responsible for noticing our work and our contributions. Sally Helgesen says that expecting others to see and reward our results leads to having our hard work overlooked, leading to frustrations and low job satisfaction.

Your work doesn’t speak for yourself; you must share and educate others about your results, contributions, and impact.

Here are four TIPS for your consideration:

  1. Articulate a clear and concise statement with examples of how some of your best work positively impacted your team/organization.
  2. Create exposure opportunities with stakeholders to share about your work and your results. 
  3. Regularly document your results connecting to the organization’s impact. Be ready to talk about the great work you do!
  4. Include wins talking points during your 1:1’s meetings with your manager making time in the agenda for updates on what went well.

Myth # 2: Our manager is responsible for advocating on our behalf. 

Sometimes our manager needs more exposure or information to represent our best interests effectively. Our aspirations may be conflictive with a need to retain us. 

Many of us have conditioned ourselves to be passive in our career journeys, hoping that our manager and organization should look after us by telling us when it is time for something new and better. 

It would be great if your manager could speak and represent your interests accurately but don’t count on it. Instead, take ownership of your professional destiny and proactively manage your career success. 

Here are four TIPS for your consideration:

  1. Schedule career conversations with your manager and key stakeholders to explore your options and become more aware of the opportunities available now or in the future. 
  2. Develop a robust line of communication with your manager and frequently ask for feedback. 
  3. Share about the aspects of your job that you enjoy the most. More information will enable a better understanding of your needs and the resources available at the organization so they can mentor you along the way.
  4. Prepare to make a solid request anticipating questions or concerns and be ready to respond. For example, if you want to participate in a global task force, your manager could ask you how you can handle additional responsibilities. 

Myths # 3: It’s best to appear self-sufficient and never needy.

Sometimes we don’t want to appear needy, ignorant, incompetent, or vulnerable. Imposter Syndrome kicks in, and we toughen up out of fear of showing weakness. Sometimes we assume others cannot help us or we feel we have not earned the privilege to ask. 

You can be more effective by asking the right people about the tools, resources, and guidance available so you can perform better. Others are more willing to help than you think, and by doing so, you balance the giving and receiving, which adds reciprocity to your relationships. Asking for what you want is a strength and not a shortcoming. Overcoming your reluctance to ask for help is a necessary skill in the workplace, and it is even more critical when you want to rise.

Here are four TIPS for your consideration:

  1. Make a list of all the areas where you would benefit from some help objectively assessing your capacity and readiness.
  2. Decide which projects/issues are most pressing and analyze who to ask. Start small by making small requests to people you trust, and then be willing to take more risks.
  3. Make specific requests in clear and concise language, avoiding apologetic and dismissive language. Example: I am working on ____ and realize I need additional information related to ___. Can you help me with _____? 
  4. Assess your gaps in the areas where you need the most support. If you discover cracks in knowledge, skills, and abilities, advocate for formal training and tools to help you increase your capabilities.

Myth # 4: Not believing our needs are significant enough- Giving up on ourselves.

Sometimes, bad experiences make us more guarded. We give up before trying to think, what is the point? Then we grow in resentment, supported by an underlying belief or story that we have been mistreated or disrespected. Resentment predisposes us to blame others for our situation, point fingers, and avoid looking at our behavior. This myth leads us to believe that our dreams, goals, and aspirations are unimportant. 

Instead of giving up on your needs and ambitions, take charge and realize that you can try again and succeed this time because you have learned from your mistakes. Take chances by bringing your needs to the surface, even if you knock on many doors. 

Here are four TIPS for your consideration:

  1. Decide that you deserve to have your needs met at work by becoming an influencer of your career destination.
  2. Identify your negative emotions and the underlying assumptions that justify them. ‘Name it to tame it’. 
  3. Shift your story by changing the narrative that makes you feel victimized. Realize that you are part of everything that happens to you, whether you like it or not.
  4. Consult with trusted advisors and mentors on better navigating the organizational hurdles. 

Myth # 5: Why Bother? Mentality. 

This ‘why bother mentality’ myth is another passive approach to our career development. In this case, we assume a weaker persona experiencing powerlessness and resignation supported by a story that we can do nothing to affect our situation. This mindset predisposes us to become cynical and skeptical, keeping us from seeing possibilities or exploring new ways to achieve our goals. 

By holding this belief, unconsciously, you are getting in your way. Instead of helplessness, you can start believing more in yourself and actively participating in your career development. 

Here are four TIPS for your consideration:

1. Gain additional clarity on your career goal, needs, and aspirations. Select one goal you want to pursue, develop SMART objectives, and plot a timeline for execution.

2. Surround yourself with a robust support system. Create a stakeholder map of who you want to reach for guidance and support. 

3. Make good business cases for your request, combining analytical and emotional data. Practice how to deliver your message effectively.

4. Explore alternatives to achieve your goals internally and outside your organization when your current workplace no longer meets your needs.

Myth # 6: Don’t toot your own horn. 

The belief system might not support us in speaking up on our behalf. We might be good at recognizing our value but uncomfortable sharing it with others. This myth can lead us to give others all the credit while discounting or minimizing our part in the success. 

Become aware of how your family values impact how you show up at work by knowing how and when these beliefs keep you stuck. Also, Recognize the prevailing stereotypes permeating your workplace culture. In which ways do you unconsciously confirm them with your behaviors and attitudes?

An excess of humility will not take you where you want to go, at least not at work. Voicing your contributions is necessary if you want to rise. 

Here are four TIPS for your consideration:

  1. Reframe your reality by realizing that communicating your value and contributions is necessary for you to move up to the next level.  
  2. It would be best to believe in yourself and your value to your work and organization. 
  3. Avoid the temptation to minimize your achievements and give yourself the credit you deserve. 
  4. Create a networking plan to increase your visibility in front of key stakeholders and prepare to deliver concise and effective informational capsules about your work. 

An effective formula to self advocate includes to let go of limiting beliefs, clear career ambitions, a visibility plan and communicating your value with confidence.

If self-advocating still feels foreign to you, keep working on it, a small step at a time. New habits take time, intention, and practice. Ultimately, we are all work in progress, aren’t we?

It is crucial to become aware of what is holding you from putting forward your needs, interests, and aspirations in a self-affirming way. Then, take a proactive approach to your career, knocking on one door at a time.

This Essay is an extract from the Women Leaders’ Speaking Series by Mari Perez for organization audiences. 

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