How to Stand Up for Yourself Without Sounding Defensive

stand up for yourselfHow to stand up for yourself is an important topic for us to discuss if you want to succeed like an executive.  As we discussed before, success is about working smarter not harder.  You have to subtly self promote to build your reputation.

As part of self promotion, it’s critical that you stand up for yourself when others are talking about your work in a way that can negatively affect your reputation.  For example, not everyone plays fair office politics: a person may falsely accuse you of some wrong, or take credit for your work.  It is also possible that a misunderstanding or miscommunication resulted in someone pointing fingers at you.  It’s unfair, but this is the reality of the corporate world.

In these cases, you cannot just stay quiet, thinking that the “truth” of what happened will come out eventually and clear your name.  The business world does not work that way.  You must be proactive in standing up for yourself in order to build or defend a good work reputation, which will support your career success.

Standing up for yourself is a communication skill that takes practice to master, because you want to do it without sounding defensive.  The goal of standing up for yourself is to demonstrate you have poise, to show that you are confident about your work, and also let people know that they cannot easily take advantage of you.

With that said, it is tough to influence people to listen to your side of the story if you sound defensive while you stand up for yourself.  So, in this article, I want to share my perspective on “truth” in the workplace, and some tips on how and when to stand up for yourself without sounding defensive.

Let’s start with truth in the workplace.  It’s important to understand this: Unfortunately, there is no one truth in the workplace — there are only perceptions. You have one perception of what happened, and the other people have their perceptions of what happened.

When you try to convince people of “your truth,” which is your perception of what happened, you are basically attacking others. Subsequently, you will sound defensive. You are in a classic “he said she said” situation. The more you try to say “I am telling you the truth,” it will simply imply that you believe the other person is lying. There is no way that will not sound defensive to anyone.

There are other ways to stand up for yourself without being so blunt in your reply and therefore does not sound defensive.  Here are 4 tips.

  1. Stay calm and use a calm tone.  This is immensely hard to do when someone just spoke badly about you, but it’s critical if you want to take the best approach to standing up for yourself.  Emotions cloud our judgement and make our communication sharp and vengeful.  Any emotional type of response you would provide will make you sound defensive and vulnerable, without achieving the goal of standing up for yourself in the right way.  On the other hand, the calmer you are in your response, the more likely people are to listen to what you have to say.
  2. Communicate your perspective without saying they are wrong.  This requires a subtle finesse to your communication.  For example, I can imagine when someone accused you of doing something wrong, your instinctual response was to say something like, “no, they are lying, I didn’t do it,” which will always sound defensive.  Instead, you can say, “I am very surprised by this news.  I am not sure why you perceived that I did this, but I respectfully disagree.”   When you take this path, you focus your communication on your reaction and the facts without pointing fingers, because pointing fingers back at someone does not really help you stand up for yourself.  It will simply make you look defensive.
  3. Give an olive branch. Again, this is hard to do, but sometimes people mis-communicate or misunderstood what happened.  They jump the gun by accusing you without understanding it from your point of view.  Instead of responding by pointing out their mistake, be the bigger man or woman and attempt to work it out by saying “perhaps this is a misunderstanding.”  This way you appear more generous and more willing to build relationships – all executive qualities that will build your reputation.
  4. Support your perspective with facts.  If you follow my suggestions above, then it’s also important to use facts to prove your case.  Again, don’t try to say they are wrong.  Just tell them facts that support why you disagree and why you are surprised by what they say.

It is also important to know when to stand up for yourself.  While in a group setting, if someone says you did something that you didn’t do, I would not recommend standing up for yourself with all the facts and “fighting with them” right then and there. You can simply say that you are surprised by their accusations, but that you disagree. Also, suggest to take the dispute offline and note that it could be a misunderstanding.

In this example, you still stood up for yourself in front of the group without going into details.  You also gave the person who accused you an out by saying it might be a misunderstanding. Lastly, you showed the rest of the group your poise and communication skills, all of which will leave a good impression.

Your comments: When was the last time you stood up for yourself?  What worked and what didn’t?  Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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– Lei

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