Have you been asked one too many times to perform work you didn’t feel comfortable with? How about working late or coming in on a weekend? Chances are you can remember something you didn’t have the skills for or didn’t have the time, energy or aspirations to do.
I was in this situation recently. I walked into my boss’s office, sweat streaming down my back. I was stressed, anxious and overwhelmed with uncertainty. He had asked me to work on a project that required technical skills I didn’t have.
After I explained how my work on the project would put me, my manager and the company in a compromising position, my manager said, “We’ll find someone else.”
The positive result of our conversation and my desire to make it better the next time sent me on a quest to find the best way to stand up for myself and not be a pushover at work.
I learned the following:
1. Don’t worry about appearing vulnerable
It’s not a sign of weakness or failure if you admit you can’t stay late, work a particular weekend or don’t possess the skills necessary to fulfill a business requirement. It’s courageous and caring, especially if the request lies beyond the scope of your ability. Everyone has gaps in their skill set and can’t fulfill every demand made of them.
Sometimes we want to please our managers so much that we sacrifice ourselves in the process. We become afraid to admit our limitations and concerns for fear of how we will look. But vulnerability is not bad and is sometimes necessary when taking a position.
2. Check your vibes before standing up for yourself
Be sensitive of the power emotions and thoughts have over your behavior. Have you ever met someone who didn’t like you, and you knew that by the expression on their face or the gestures they used in conversation? Ninety-three percent of communication is non-verbal. How you’re feeling and what you’re thinking will come out. It will either come out of your mouth or out of your body; but it will come out.
So, check your vibes before discussing anything of importance. If how you’re feeling is not what you want to communicate, address it. Talk with a close friend. Vent to a family member. Affirm yourself. Write in a journal. Just don’t put yourself in a position to send a message you don’t want to send.
3. Be understanding and sympathetic
Try to grasp where your manager is coming from. Managers are concerned about one thing: completing work that affects the company’s bottom line. This narrow focus sometimes causes them to look at coworkers as resources instead of people with feelings, aspirations and limitations.
In a situation that affects you directly, such as one involving your abilities, desired career path or work schedule, speak up. Part of your job is to remind your manager you are more than your job.
For the best possible outcome, present your concern in a way that demonstrates your interest in protecting your manager, the project or the company from potential harm.
4. Present favorable alternatives
Sometimes requests made of us seem unreasonable. Only you can determine what is unreasonable to you. Being hired for a local job and then being asked to fly overseas one week out of every month might seem unreasonable. You must let your manager know what is unreasonable for you.
Your manager is more likely to respond favorably if he or she is presented with alternatives. For example, instead of telling your manager you don’t have the skills to work on a particular project, ask if training could be made available to you.
If you’re unable to stay late or work weekends, suggest your interest in working remotely. Present alternatives to demonstrate you’re not trying to avoid work but would rather do what’s best for everyone.
5. Respect the time of everyone involved
Your manager doesn’t have time to listen while you figure out what to say. If possible, write down your message before entering his or her office.
For example, if they have a business requirement you don’t have the skills to fulfill, write something like, “I’m not a good fit for this project because I don’t have the skills needed to work on it. Although I am willing to learn them, right now, I don’t want to put me, you or the company in a compromising situation.” Then, use your message as the core to shape the rest of your case.
Should a demand suddenly be sprung upon you, avoid responding immediately. Your first reaction may not be the message you want to communicate. Instead, pause for several seconds, think about what you want to convey and then respond. Just pausing for several seconds can give you enough time to gather your thoughts and respond in a purposeful way.
If time warrants, you could say, “Let me think about it for a minute,” or “Let me think about it and get back to you later in the day.” If your manager agrees, be sure to deliver your response within the timeframe you stated. Doing so shows you take the matter seriously.
6. Take cues from your boss
Some managers like to hit the ground running first thing in the morning and are focused on getting their task list done. This means it’s not a good idea to interrupt them immediately upon arriving unless it’s critical.
Other managers like to walk around and socialize over a cup of coffee. Bosses tend to be more receptive to messages in this relaxed setting. This is the time to say, “I need to talk to you later about something” and make an appointment.
And when you do have that meeting, approach it positively; keep your head up, lean forward and actively listen to what is being said. If you disagree with something, say so verbally to avoid misunderstanding. Conversations like these are a normal part of the ebb and flow of business and should be seen as such.
You have no reason to be a pushover at work. You don’t have to dread going to the office day after day, smiling on the outside while seething with frustration on the inside. You are responsible for making your career as fulfilling as possible. You are the only one who knows what you want and need. Nothing is too big or small as long as it matters to you.
So don’t wait around for your boss to guess what would make you happy; use these tips and stand up for it.
Lisa Hamilton blogs at Getting to Zen, where she shares practical tips for living bold, getting fit and being happy. Check out her advice on how to list freelance and self-employment experience on your resume.