It can be a harsh world, and sometimes the path forward is not an easy one. That’s one big reason we generally seek allies, and try to work well with others. Unfortunately, even the best alliances can break down, prove powerless, or become unavailable when we need them.
In such times, there’s often no choice but to stand up for yourself.
Here are some suggestions on when and how to do this:
Protect Your Space As I’ve said many times, working well with others is often critical to your own productivity and success. But there are times when one (or more) of those other people is not working with you well enough. This is a difficult situation, leaving you with an unwelcome choice: suffer in silence or take steps to motivate and support at least some of that person’s efforts.
One good way to stand up for yourself in such a situation is to find a private moment in which to convey to the other person your need for them to improve their results in areas that are impacting your own performance. Another is to enlist the help of a third party who stands a better chance than you of getting the other person to do a better job for you.
However you stand up for yourself in this situation, you must use a delicate touch and display a positive attitude. Browbeating and threatening are unlikely to motivate others to provide you with more or better support.
Don’t Take On Others’ Problems One of the cardinal rules of productivity and success is to focus your efforts and attention where they will do the most good. In certain situations, this can mean declining requests or pressure to take on other people’s responsibilities or solve their problems.
You can think of responsibilities and problems that clearly belong to other people as a monkey, riding — where it belongs — on the shoulders of the other person. As they consult with you, they may make efforts to shift that monkey onto to your shoulders. Don’t let them.
It’s OK to listen to their problems, to offer suggestions and possible solutions, even to share your resources, if as and when appropriate. But at the end of the conversation, it’s important to make sure the monkey is still riding on their shoulders, not yours.
You Want to Speak Your Piece What’s extremely difficult for some people in some situations is to speak your piece, which may be an idea, a criticism, an analysis, a suggestion, or even a plan. If you feel your contribution will add some value to the situation, it’s important you develop the self-esteem and courage to make it known.
When you find yourself facing this difficulty:
Rule # 1 is not to apologize before, during, or after you speak your piece. Any apology just undercuts the impact of what you say and conveys that even you don’t think it’s all that worthwhile.
Rule # 2 is to ignore all those internal voices telling you to keep quiet. Once you’ve determined your contribution will add value, you owe it to yourself and to others to add it to the conversation.
You Know What You Want Another situation where it’s difficult to stand up for yourself is — within reason — to ask for what you want.
For example, when you are deeply involved in a difficult task, project, or goal, or you are facing a deadline you can’t meet, it’s smart to ask for help. When you do, make it easier for people to help you by asking specifically for what you need, explaining why you need it, and indicating that you’ll reciprocate whenever the situation is reversed.
When you require someone in authority to make a decision so you know how to proceed on a particular task, or project, it’s fair to lay out for them the alternatives you feel are available for moving forward from this point. You may also want to explain your inability to make any further progress until that decision gets made, and offer details like the costs and dangers of delaying this decision any longer.
When you need additional information to make progress on a task, project, or goal, you shouldn’t just wait until it falls in your lap. You’ll be more productive when you go get it, from whatever source where it’s available. You’ll help others provide you with this information when you are prepared with both context and specific questions.
You’re even justified standing up for your need to have some personal or vacation time. Having worked long and hard to accomplish one or more tasks, projects, or goals, it’s fair to need a breather, so you can recover and restore your energies for the next push toward productivity and success. As long as your request is reasonable and flexible enough to avoiding throwing a monkey-wrench into others’ tasks, projects, and goals, you can legitimately ask for your recovery time without an apology.
Standing up for yourself in these and other ways will help you earn points and win agreement from the others involved in your work and your life, much more often than you will succeed through groveling.
This straightforward, honest, self-confident behavior will also help you feel better about who you are and how you behave in a wide variety of important situations.
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