How to Stand Your Ground at Work

If you take a look at all the highest achievers and leaders in any field, strength and force of personality is always a common trait. They know what they’re about, what they believe in, and when to make a stand and defend their position.

See Also: Are You a Pushover or Too Pushy at Work?

The ability to stand your ground at work is essential if you are going to stand out and earn the respect of management and peers alike. But it doesn’t come naturally to everybody, especially if you’re the shy type. In fact, it’s common to feel like you’re not being heard, or that your ideas are being steamrolled over.

Luckily, standing up for yourself is a skill that can be developed and improved with practice. Here’s how it’s done:


1. Choose Your Battles

As long as your position is justifiable and reasonable, you should always make an attempt to stand up for yourself. Having said that, it’s often not worth making a mountain out of a molehill, and it’s just plain wrong to take an untenable position and stick with it for the sake of being right.

Try to imagine how you’ll feel afterwards. For example, how would you feel if you realised later that you’d behaved unreasonably? How would you feel later if you’d allowed yourself to be pushed over? Chances are, you won’t feel very proud of yourself either way—the right balance is somewhere in-between.

Before you say or do anything, consider the ramifications first. If there’s a very real possibility that making a stand will cost you your job, then it’s probably wise to hold your tongue. Sometimes, conviction is viewed favourably and can even lead to a promotion. Other times, you’ll be ostracized for speaking up.

This is something you’ll have to feel out for yourself on a case-by-case basis, because it will entirely depend on who you’re dealing with and why. Look at how others in your organisation have fared when they’ve stood their ground, and talk to colleagues if you’re not sure.

2. Build Your Confidence

If you’ve weighed the options and decided to make a stand, don’t do it half-assed. Standing up for yourself begins with having confidence and self-belief. If you’ve got all the facts to hand and you’re certain you’re in the right, then believe you’re in the right and make sure the other party sees this.

If you’re the timid type, work on building up your overall confidence levels both inside and outside the workplace. Push yourself out of your comfort zone as often as possible by trying new things, taking on new projects, and putting yourself forward for work tasks you’ve never done before.

Just remember, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. For example, taking exception to fair criticism is not standing your ground, it’s just plain arrogant. In this case, you would be better served by accepting your shortcomings and working on turning them into strengths.

We all find ourselves in the wrong from time to time—the key is to recognise and admit it. Being arrogant and defiant just for the sake of it is not a mark of strength. Quite the opposite—strong leaders listen to others and take their ideas on board.

3. Practice Assertiveness


The key to standing up for yourself in work is to be assertive, which is not the same as being defiant or aggressive. You don’t have to attack another person to assert yourself, and it won’t get you anywhere anyway. You want to win without others feeling they have lost.

If you’re making demands, telling people what to do, intimidating, being condescending or trying to get your own way no matter the cost, then you’ve passed the point of standing your ground and entered bullying territory. And no one wants to be considered a bully.

Put simply, assertiveness is all about respect. It’s about respecting yourself enough to make your ideas heard while also respecting the person you’re talking to. You wouldn’t have much respect for a co-worker who’s too meek to stand up for themselves, nor would you have any for a boss who’s belittling and rude. Don’t be either of these people.

It helps to put yourself in the other person’s shoes; try to understand where they’re coming from and how you’d wish to be treated if you were in their position. They might not show you the same empathy, but at least you’ll have a better idea of how to steer the conversation in your favour and come to a happy compromise.

4. Speak Clearly, Stay on Message

When you do take a stand, you need to effectively communicate what you’re trying to say if the other party is to understand you. Articulate clearly what you want, and stay on topic throughout the conversation. Listen to the other side (and I mean actually listen), keep your body language positive, and maintain your own confidence at all times.

Avoid being snarky or sarcastic, and choose how you phrase things carefully. There’s a distinct difference between making your feelings known and throwing accusations. See if you can spot the difference between these two examples, and ask yourself which one would be more effective:

  • "Your attitude is horrible."
  • "I would prefer if you dealt with me more politely."

Unfortunately, you can do everything right and sometimes the message still won’t get through. In this case, you can try whittling your argument down to a single, short statement and repeating it calmly and firmly until you’re heard. For example, "I need that information by 3 PM" or "no, I can’t attend that meeting right now."

When the other party offers an excuse or diversion, simply repeat the same statement in exactly the same way. It might seem like you’re coming across as annoying, but it’s often the only way to get other people to respect your thoughts and decisions.

5. Diffuse and Disarm

Diffuse and Disarm
Campus Sports

We’re often hit with conflict and criticism that seems to come straight out of the blue. If this happens to you, don’t react immediately—take some time to think it through. If you’ve been confronted directly or things are getting heated, ask to postpone the conversation (or move it elsewhere) and take a few minutes to gather your thoughts.

If a boss or colleague is being aggressive, diffuse the situation first by agreeing with whatever they say, even if it’s critical of you. This has an instantly disarming effect—they’ll have expected you to go on the defensive, and will likely be surprised by your reaction. You, on the other hand, have maintained your assertive position and can now take control of the conversation.

In other situations, you’ll need to simply say "no" to a co-worker. It can be such a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re the polite, accommodating type. However, you can’t please everybody all the time, so you need to be able to turn people away when necessary and appropriate.

To do this, try using "thanks, but…" instead of a blunt "no." For example, "Thanks, but I can’t make that meeting right now" or "thanks for the offer, but my plate is full at the moment." Say it with genuine appreciation and a little smile, and it will be virtually impossible for the other person to feel brushed off.

6. Understand the Food Chain

tiger stalking prey

Standing your ground at work requires a somewhat nuanced approach, depending on your position within the organisation. As an ordinary worker, you’ll find that bosses can be a hard nut to crack, as they generally have almost zero tolerance for any perceived threat to their authority.

Remember, it’s all about respect. You must first acknowledge that, ultimately, your boss is the person in charge and the one who makes the decisions. Keeping this dynamic in mind, you can firmly and repeatedly deliver your message until it gets through, using the strategies above to diffuse heat and disarm them if necessary.

Funnily enough, it can be just as difficult to assert yourself as a manager or leader. The danger here is that if you don’t get the balance right, you might end up coming across as either a tyrant or a doormat in the eyes of your staff members.

Again, it’s all about respecting their ideas and input, maintaining positive body language, and communicating clearly. Oh, and never chew out an employee in front of other workers, or worse, customers. It’s not nice, it’s not professional, and you’ll look like a douche.

See Also: How to Rock the Boat Without Getting Fired

The hardest thing about standing your ground at work is taking the first step and actually doing it. If you’re in a new job, have just been promoted, or you’re new to management it will be particularly difficult, as you won’t want to upset the apple cart.

Just remember, it’s not about throwing your weight around for the sake of it. It’s about respect—for your colleagues, your ideas, your values, and yourself.

Have you ever had to make a stand at work? What were the results? Let us know in the comments below: