How to stand up for yourself at work

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Do you find it difficult to make your voice heard or to maintain your boundaries? It could be time to readdress your workplace dynamic. Here, our expert columnist Andy Gill explores steps to do just that

Work can be a challenging environment for many of us to navigate, particularly given the hierarchies of authority that are present. At work, we have people in positions of power over us, and colleagues with whom we might find ourselves in competition as we seek to prove and secure our employment.

In this environment, it can be difficult to challenge a boss, or perhaps express an opinion that differs from another colleague. This can be especially true if you are more passive in nature – you are likely to have a strategy for relationships that relies on getting people to like you. If you adopt this approach, you might be popular at work, but you are also less likely to want to rock the boat for fear of upsetting someone or bringing unwanted attention to yourself.

This is true for my client Kay. Her boss continually contacts her outside work hours. He calls her in the evening and sends emails over the weekend that he expects her to respond to. For Kay, this means that work is seeping into her private life in a way she doesn’t like, and it is causing her to feel stressed and anxious.

Kay has enough self-awareness to understand that her need for a separation between work and her private life is not being respected by her boss, yet she feels unable to act to stop it. She is angry and is starting to feel victimised.

In the workplace, being liked can only take you so far. And, in Kay’s case, it has led to her becoming compliant in order to gain approval and acceptance from her boss. A far more effective strategy for workplace relationships is to be respected, and to respect others. This is a relationship of equals, and this is the crux of the matter for Kay; she does not see herself as equal, or as worthy of respect, so she feels unable to act.

Ready to switch things up?

As a coach, my work begins with helping my clients build their self-worth so that they feel worthy of respect from others. If you’re ready for change, try these five steps to help you speak up at work.

Step one:

Think about a person you have worked with who you respect. Someone who carries themselves confidently, and can stand up for themselves. What do you respect about them? What qualities do they possess?

A ‘quality’ is a characteristic that determines the nature and behaviour of a person. In the context of this exercise, we are focusing on positive qualities. A person lacking in self-worth will tend to see themselves more negatively. By working to build their positive qualities we can help them feel worthy.

So, close your eyes and think about this person. Visualise them in a work situation:

  • How do they behave?
  • How do they communicate?
  • How do they hold themselves?
  • What qualities do they have that enable them to be respected?

They might be strong, intelligent, articulate, confident, etc. I want you to come up with a list of at least 30 qualities that this person possesses that enables them to stand up for themselves. If you get stuck, repeat the exercise with other people you respect until you get to 30. You are identifying the qualities that you need to feel worthy of respect at work.

Step two:

Put these qualities into a list of ‘I am’ statements. For example, ‘I am confident, ‘I am strong’, etc.

Step three:

Take your list and read it out loud to yourself. If you feel uncomfortable with any of the statements, that is an indication that the positive quality is clashing with a negative limiting belief. This is a good thing, as you have identified a hole in your self-worth that needs filling up. Read this list out loud at least twice a day for two weeks.

Step four:

Record yourself reading the list on your phone. If you find that you cannot listen back to the recording, return to step three and repeat until you can. Listening to yourself in this way is very powerful, as it plants powerful positive suggestions into your subconscious mind. Listen every day for at least two weeks.

Step five:

Stand in front of a mirror and repeat each quality statement to yourself three times while maintaining eye contact. If you find you cannot do this yet, return to step four until you can. Do this exercise at least once a day for two weeks, and then repeat it when you need to top up.


Take as long as you need to complete this exercise, and repeat it as often as you need to. Time and repetition will enable you to see yourself as worthy of the respect you afford others.


Andy Gill is a multi-modal therapist who uses coaching, hypnotherapy, and yoga to meet his clients’ needs. Find out more by visiting Life Coach Directory.



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