Ask and (Hopefully) You Shall Receive: Advocating for Yourself at Work
by Alphild Dick, Senior Editor
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are our careers. Both in the cases of empires and professional credibility, you often have to construct from the ground up. That means that no matter how insightful, innovative, or just flat-out good your ideas are, getting buy-in from your supervisors may take a little bit of work.
I know it can be discouraging when your suggestions aren’t immediately jumped on by your higher ups, but take heart! Being able to advocate for your position is an incredibly useful—and incredibly attainable—skill to have in your toolkit. This is especially the case for folks working in traditional library jobs. Positions are scarce, and resources scarcer. Being able to pitch yourself and your vision will help you succeed at all points along your career, whether you are looking for a job, approval for a project, or even a promotion.
Not sure where to start? Here are five things to do—and three not to do!
- Ask: How many great ideas have risen and fallen inside the mind of one person? Rejection is always scary, but the more you practice the art of asking (I know, I’m ripping off the title of Amanda Palmers’ amazing book, The Art of Asking. Which, as a side note, you should totally read,) the less scary it becomes. You’d be surprised at how receptive you will find people.
- Know the value of a good plan: I have had the best luck advocating for my own ideas by being ready to present a plan. After years in academia, my go-to methodology is to write up proposals for projects anytime I want to undertake something that requires more than a day or two’s work. Perhaps it is overkill for my position in a public library, but putting the who-what-when-where-whys of a project helps me give a much better elevator pitch. Bonus: This works great in job interviews and performance reviews (especially when asking for a raise!). Being able to say what you would like to do makes you shine as a candidate.
- Know who to talk to: That is, know the chain of command. If you don’t know, ask. Even if you have an understanding supervisor, jumping the line (unintentionally or not) is a great way to damage your relationship with your boss. Not sure your boss will be receptive? You can always try asking him or her for an audience with them AND their supervisor, although this can be risky. If you feel like you are facing negativity, solicit constructive criticism to see how you can make improvements.
- Be confident: This suggestion is, or should be, on every professional how-to list. I won’t go on and on about how confidence benefits you and your career development. Plenty of other INALJ-ers have written about it quite well. I’ll just say that, in these particular situations, if you can’t believe in yourself and your ideas, you won’t be able to convince others to, either. Still struggling to feel self-assured? Fake it!
- Show your skills: Places like libraries need workers to be multi-faceted, multi-skilled employees. Show that you have lots of tools at your disposal, and you will increase your credibility in the long run and demonstrate your value to your organization. Especially important? Show that you are able to follow through on small projects.
- Don’t downtalk yourself or your ideas: There are plenty of people in this world who will tell you “no.” It’s important to be aware of pitfalls, challenges, and shortcomings, and to be able to talk about them when asked. But let your supervisor, director, whoever is in charge bring them up.
- Don’t spread negativity: Asking for change can be hard because sometimes change suggests that other people haven’t been doing their jobs right. There is no one way to handle these situations, but it pays to be sensitive to how your suggestions will impact relationships with others. Finding positive ways to frame your ideas is a great place to start, though.
- Don’t forget the big picture: Are you sensing a reluctance to incorporate your ideas? It’s easy to forget that workplaces have histories. Right or wrong, there are always lots of factors that shape organizational attitudes. Sometimes it takes a while for supervisors to warm up to new ideas, but if you stay positive.