Self-Advocacy & How to Do it | Is This Mic On?

In this edition of Is This Mic On? we tackle the question of, “How do I advocate for myself at work?” Read on to hear what we had to say about reframing overcommunication, gathering experience, and celebrating wins.

How do I advocate for myself at work?

Dear SNP,

I’ve never been one to brag. In fact, I feel uncomfortable telling my colleagues and higher-ups about the details and successes of my projects beyond what they need to know to do their own work. I think the quality of my work should speak for itself. But at the same time, I see people getting opportunities and promotions that don’t always come my way. I want to bring more visibility to my work without coming across as self-centered. How do I advocate for myself and my capabilities?


Scared of self-promotion

Dear Scared of self-promotion

So much to talk about here. Communication. Self-advocacy. Trust. Social comparison.

I’m perfect for this assignment. I’ll tell you in great detail about all of my experiences with all of these topics. I’m the absolute best person to respond to your questions. Ready? 

I’m kidding. Because how exhausting was that to even read?! 

The anticipation of someone launching into their own personal sales pitch is draining. Every sentence that starts with “I” chips away at connection. And what may be a conversational moment becomes a larger problem: erosion of trust. Because if you’re only talking about things in the frame of “I” there’s no room for “you” let alone “us.”

3 steps to advocate for yourself at work

It’s hard to share a litany of your own accomplishments without referring to “I” (or “you” – you get what I mean). A bit of a quagmire. Perhaps. Let’s make it less so. 

  • Reframe overcommunication
  • Gather experience
  • Celebrate wins

Reframe overcommunication

Who needs to know? What do they need to know? When do they need to know it? You’re likely working in some kind of team-based, cross-functional capacity. Very few of us (maybe none of us?) are working in a truly individual contributor, dependent on and responsible to…no one. Even more so, you’re likely working on multiple examples, impacting multiple people, teams, and goals. As are all of your colleagues. That’s a lot to manage for you and for the managers leading the people and projects. So: overcommunicate, using those three questions as the frame: Who needs to know? What do they need to know? When do they need to know it?

This isn’t self-promotion, this is communication. This is ensuring that all people know what they need to know when they need to know it. Perhaps there is some structure behind it: every Thursday, you send three succinct bullets to the project team or project leader. There is a pattern set, in addition to any one-off shares that may happen between those bookends. Over-communication is not self-promotion. It’s communication, connection. And the added benefit, it ensures that no one is surprised by a lack of information. Some of my biggest mistakes have happened when I’ve surprised managers or colleagues. My inner monologue of “they don’t need me to tell them this…they know what I’m working on…” often ended in crossed wires, duplicative work, assumptions, and the bad kind of surprises. 

So reframe overcommunication. 

The point of the above is less about sharing how great you are (you are great). It’s articulating specific accomplishments, wins, and losses with a purpose, and a purpose that you already know is important or of interest to your audience. 

The struggle of social comparison

Let’s now talk briefly about social comparison. It’s rampant. We compare ourselves to our colleagues, our high school classmate who we haven’t seen in years, and the music mogul who happens to be our age. We compare ourselves to our partners, parents, and the person in front of us in line for coffee. Even in your question, you’re comparing yourself to your over-communicative colleague. The problem is that the comparisons are never fully fair. We don’t know their full story. The unique combination of experiences, timing, and skills that got someone to that point. 

So the quick response is: stop it. 

The more helpful response is to give you something to do instead: 

  • Create your own benchmark
  • Get curious
  • Deliver recognition

Gather experience

Benchmarks and goals. Comparing yourself to others may mean that you see a quality, skill, experience or accomplishment that you want to channel. So articulate what that is. Make them smart (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, timely). Create your own benchmark via those goals. Then go get that experience, accomplishment, or learning. You’ll feel more capable and confident going after what you think you lack rather than ruminating on it.

Celebrate wins and give recognition 

Now, there may still be that little voice inside of you that puts you on that imaginary scale of better/worse. Give that voice something else to do: get curious about how someone got to where they are. Talk with them. Reconnect with them. Read the memoir. Get curious and learn. Then the final place to put that comparison energy: celebrate and recognize. Bring a voice to what is great, put it out into the world. 

Watch this video for a framework on recognition.

Becoming an advanced self-advocate

Reframe overcommunication. Consider who needs to know, what they need to know, and when they need to know it. And then take ownership of social comparison, putting the energy into clarity, curiosity, and recognition. It’s all a practice, a discipline. Start today.

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