Sometimes we need to advocate for ourselves at work – but it’s not always easy to speak up.

I asked my friend Jim how his new job was going. I expected an enthusiastic thumbs up. Instead I heard him say, “I’m ready to quit.”

What had seemed like it would be a great next step in his career was actually an exponentially increasing – and impossible to keep up with – workload. The demands on Jim’s time and attention were coming at him from multiple directions, with several departments all asking him to prioritize their requests. To make matters worse, he was trying to do the work of three people (two of his teammates were out on leave).

No wonder he wanted to quit.

When I asked him if he had talked with his boss Ed about this situation, his answer surprised me again. He said, “No, I just put my head down, stay late, work weekends, and try to get it done.”

That’s when I realized that Jim – an introvert who prefers to stay out of the spotlight – probably hadn’t even considered being an advocate for himself.

Why We’re Afraid of Speaking Up

Asking our boss for what we need can be difficult. None of us want to be thought of as entitled, whiny, or a troublemaker. For introverts, calling attention to ourselves can also make us anxious or uncomfortable. We might feel like we’re setting ourselves up for a conflict or potentially damaging our relationship with our boss.

Having an honest conversation about our genuine needs doesn’t have to be a “me vs. you” situation, though. With some preparation and practice, we can advocate for ourselves at work. We can be confident that the conversation will be positive and productive. We can trust that our relationship with our boss will not only survive, but maybe even grow stronger.

How to Advocate for Yourself

  • Believe you’re worth it. Before you have that honest conversation about your needs, know that you deserve to be your own advocate. Believe that you have what it takes to really succeed if you’re given the appropriate tools and support. That belief will help you find the courage to speak up. Another confidence booster: write down what you want to say and practice saying it out loud. Those dress rehearsals will encourage you when you find yourself actually talking with your boss.
  • Offer facts – and solutions. Remember that your boss isn’t a mind reader. She may not have any idea what you’re struggling with. Be specific and clear about the facts of the situation. Then, prove your superstar status by demonstrating your problem-solving skills. Talk with your boss about your proposed solutions, rather than expecting her to come up with them on her own. Being proactive will reinforce just how valuable you are.
  • Share what’s in it for them. When you make her look good and her job easier, your boss will likely find your reasoning very compelling. Also consider how what you’re asking for will benefit the entire team, and even the company as a whole. When you’re thinking about the facts of the situation, take the big picture into consideration. Then, speak to the reasons why what you’re asking for will contribute not just to your own success, but also to the success of the larger group.

Jim tried this approach and was pleasantly surprised when his boss Ed agreed that he should have more support. Rather than looking down on him for struggling with the workload, Ed empowered him to say “No” to some of the requests he’d been bombarded with. Ed also encouraged Jim to talk with him any time about any issue that cropped up. Knowing he had Ed’s support and that his door was always open helped Jim build a more trusting and open relationship with his boss. And that’s something we all deserve to have at work.