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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development

How to Successfully Stand Up for Yourself in Any Situation

Plus, 6 musts for effective confrontation

Woman happy after successfully standing up for herself
Photo courtesy of Candice Picard

No one enjoys confrontation. But even if it feels uncomfortable and awkward, confrontation is a healthy and necessary skill required in order to stand up for yourself and advance your career, and can even strengthen interpersonal relationships and make people respect you more. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jessica January Behr says that our boundaries are how we maintain safety and sanity in the world around us. In work-related environments especially, standing up for ourselves is imperative in order to protect and maintain our mental health, productivity, and confidence. 

“It’s important to stand up for yourself if your mental health, self-confidence, productivity, or reputation is being tarnished by the interactions with another [person]. Standing up for yourself in a work context assures that you’re spending your time in an environment that is first and foremost safe, but also is conducive to growth and success,” Behr says.

Learning how to properly stand up for yourself won’t happen overnight, so it’s important to dedicate time to practicing the skill and getting more comfortable advocating for yourself. Below, we’ll discuss when to stand up for yourself, examples of verbal and body language to use (or avoid), and six musts for successful confrontation. 

Read more: The Importance of Building Trust at Work

When to stand up for yourself

Many of us, whether introverts or extroverts, dread the risk of rejection or anger from others when thinking about speaking up and standing up for ourselves. But if we don’t, we won’t learn, grow and mature, or be able to educate others around us how to be more considerate and inclusive. 

"Women in particular seem to struggle with setting healthy boundaries—and solidly standing up for themselves—if this was not modeled for them as children," says clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly. “Thus, a piece of the work is learning that a person can stand up to others with gentle, solid power.” 

Basically, any time you feel in your gut something isn’t right—you’ve been insulted, someone isn’t taking you seriously, you’re being belittled, etc—listen to that feeling and make a plan on how you want to proceed with communicating your feelings. 

For example, you might need to stand up for yourself in situations when:

  • Someone mispronounces your name

  • A coworker is taking credit for your work

  • Your boss is tone policing you

  • Advocating for yourself to get a raise or promotion

  • You’re negotiating a new salary

  • You don’t feel safe working late alone in the office

But how do you know when it’s even worth it to engage with someone or if it’s better to ignore your feelings for the sake of keeping the peace? 

Behr says, “It’s worth it to engage with someone when you need to [regularly] maintain lines of communication, or when the transgressions repeatedly cross your boundaries or create a negative emotional experience for you. It’s also worth engaging when you expect the person is capable of receiving feedback and is open to communication.”

Read more: How to Give Constructive Criticism to Anyone in the Office

Examples of verbal and body language to use when standing up for yourself

Now that you’ve hyped yourself up to be your biggest cheerleader and advocate, it’s time to figure out what to say and how to constructively communicate your feelings. It can seem daunting, but start by taking a deep breath, thinking through your perspective and how you want to express it, and when you plan to pull the individual aside. 

Behr advises to start by using “I statements” instead of “you statements” to avoid pointing all the blame on someone else. It also points to your honesty, authenticity, and transparency in how you’re feeling.

For example, instead of saying: 

  • "You're crossing my boundaries."

  • “The way you’re speaking is making me shut down right now.”

  • “Your attitude is causing me to be less productive.”

  • “You’re not listening to me.”

You can say: 

  • "I feel uncomfortable when I’m spoken to that way."

  • "I’ve noticed that when _____ occurs, I tend to shut down." 

  • "I’ve noticed that this style of communication leads to me feeling like _____. I would like to suggest that in the future, we handle this in a different way."

  • “Let me make my point more clear. I feel like _____.”

When speaking to the other person, avoid using a combative tone or accusatory language. You never want to react in the heat of the moment by attacking someone’s character. You want to stand your ground without stooping to bullying or verbally attacking someone. 

Behr says, “When standing up for yourself, it’s important to remember that you are stating and enforcing a boundary, not punishing or attacking the other person. Therefore, keep in mind what your limits and boundaries are and communicate those clearly in non-aggressive language.” 

Read more: How to Handle Getting Called Out & Learn from the Mistake

If confronting someone, you want to hold firm your boundaries and point of view with your words, but be careful not to overstep into a punitive or assaultive physical stance. Sometimes, our natural physical reactions take over, and instinctive body language like crossed arms or clenched fists can indicate defensiveness or aggression. Try to be aware of your physical body language and what it’s consciously or unconsciously doing to communicate and project your feelings.

Read more: Is Your Coworker a Control Freak? 4 Steps to Standing Up for Yourself

6 musts for successful confrontation

1. Remain calm and write down your feelings

If your knee-jerk reaction is to always immediately fight back after you feel you’ve been slighted, you probably won’t be able to realistically assess the meaning behind your feelings and have a reason-based conversation with someone. Take deep breaths, and take a moment to write down how you’re feeling before confronting someone. 

2. Figure out what about the situation bothered or concerned you

Similarly to the point above, in order to effectively get your point across, you’ll need to succinctly articulate why you’re upset. Ask yourself, why did that make me feel this way? Have I felt like this before? Is this feeling related to unprocessed trauma or emotional baggage?

3. Reflect on if or how you contributed to the dynamic

As long as emotions are still running high, you might remain closed off to any contradicting perspective, preventing you from considering actively listening to the other person’s viewpoint. Before you confront someone, reflect on your own actions and if you could’ve done or said something differently.

4. Recognize your feelings as valid

Remember, what you’re feeling is always 100 percent completely valid, and no one can take that from you or gaslight you into questioning your thoughts. You have every right to speak up for your needs and preserve your mental health and happiness. 

5. Clarify your perspective without positioning it as the only correct viewpoint

Obviously you think you’re in the right if you’re standing up for yourself, but in order to have healthy interactions, it’s important to frame your argument or viewpoint as your own opinion, not a fact. (There are, however, objectively inappropriate situations at work. Just be aware there’s a difference.)

6. Pick your battles

Although it’s generally always good to stand up for yourself, there will be times when you’ll need to weigh your options and pick your battles. For example, if you know that you won’t have to interact with an individual repeatedly, or even ever again, you might choose to hold your tongue. If you’re in a situation where you have previous experience with a person who you know is not open to feedback or has anger issues, you might choose to go directly to HR or another third party mediator. 

Read more: 3 Keys to Healthy & Constructive Confrontation

About our source

Jessica January Behr, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the director and founder of Behr Psychology. She is psychodynamically trained and influenced, with a patient-centered and eclectic therapeutic approach, and provides treatment for mood, adjustment, personality and addictive disorders, as well as for serious mental illness.

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