Speak Up!

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” - Coco Chanel

In the movies (or a perfect world), standing up for yourself always results in being rewarded.  Honesty is the best policy. The bold get what they want. But here, in reality, you’re right to wonder. . .  Should I tell my boss I need a raise or I’m leaving? Should I take a stand against my friend’s insensitive joke? Should I tell my co-worker to back off my project?

Because sometimes, you stand up for yourself and you’re not rewarded. Standing up for yourself can absolutely bite you in the ass. Sometimes you present an ultimatum and they choose the wrong option or you ask for something nicely and it’s misinterpreted as manipulative.

According to Social Science Researcher, Adam Galinsky, getting rewarded for speaking up, versus punished, comes down to understanding your personal power in any given situation and weighing the probability of reward against the risks. Galinsky claims there is a range of acceptable moments for being assertive and finding the middle ground is key.

If you air on the side of being too assertive, speaking up too much, you are punished for being a bully or speaking “out of turn.” Stay silent and you are weak and go unnoticed, never getting what you want or need. His research has found that adhering to either side of this range, in an extreme, usually happens when we are over or under confident, vulnerable, or inexperienced. The sweet spot lies in being assertive but likable.

Your range of personal power changes in each context where you might speak up. For example, in negotiations, you can gauge your personal power based on your available alternatives. If you’re left with nothing if the deal falls through, you have little personal power for assertiveness. Whereas, if you have 3 other viable options, then you have more personal power and should feel free to speak up and negotiate boldly.  

According to Galinsky, understanding what grants personal power is the key to gaining a voice and advocating for a better life. Once you understand it, you can increase it. He says it must be done on two levels.  First, you must increase your sense of power in your own eyes (work to boost confidence) and second, you must learn to tell others your personal narrative in a way that increases your power in their eyes (mutual respect).

Here’s are Galinsky’s 5 strategies for increasing personal power on both of these levels:

  1. Advocate - Advocating for others helps you discover your own voice and gains you personal allies in your life. When you help others succeed, you gain their support, respect and a reputation for getting results. Advocating is a great way for people with low confidence to start gaining power because they don’t have to ask for things they may not feel they deserve.
  2. Get Perspective - This is about empathy and increasing Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Looking at the world through another’s eyes, shifts consciousness to what other’s want.  Knowing this boosts personal power because it helps you better understand win-win scenarios. This improves confidence and negotiations.
  3. Show Flexibility - Giving people options during assertive communication lowers their defenses. Be flexible on your end, as well, as valuing different results increases positive outcomes.
  4. Gain Allies - While advocating for others builds allies, another way to get people on your side is to ask for advice. Quite simply, it’s about displaying humility and engaging in flattery.  And while these tactics may seem transparent, they work. According to Galinsky, they work even when a person “sees it coming.”
  5. Display Expertise - Seek evidence of your competency and unique skill sets to gain power. Don’t have a unique skill? Then tap into your passion to gain expertise.

We all have ranges of personal power and roles to play in the world, but they can be expanded and can evolve.  When the context calls for speaking up, use the tools to gain personal power and maximize your growth.




Rocky Lewis
Rocky Lewis

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