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Resilience: Understanding and Communicating Your Needs in the Workplace

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 7, 2022

Post Written By: Adeline Kerviel, PhD, Detailee at OITE

The third unit* of the OITE workshop “Becoming a resilient scientist”, presented by Dr. Sharon Milgram, focused on self-advocacy and assertiveness. She shared the idea that “Assertiveness is a learned skill built on the foundation of resilience”.

Conflict and challenging situations inevitably arise in the workplace. You may feel disappointed when an experiment doesn’t work or frustrated when your supervisor dismisses your ideas or overlooks your hard work.

Difficult emotions -- frustration, irritation, and anger -- often arise but sometimes go unrecognized. These emotions can escalate when we don’t speak up about something that bothers us or speak up too soon without preparation. Developing the skills to become a resilient scientist includes learning to advocate for yourself and communicate assertively.

Assertive communication is a direct communication style, described as firm but polite and respectful. It requires believing in yourself and your rights, including your right to set boundaries, which can be mental, emotional, physical, or material. For example, by saying “no” we set boundaries. Sometimes, we hold ourselves back from asserting ourselves. We may think we don’t have the right to be proactive or fear displeasing others. We do not know what we want or lack the skills to regulate our emotions.

When engaging in a difficult conversation, consider developing strategies to ground yourself (breathe deeply, feel your body, use an anchoring phrase…). Stay calm in the moment, and hone skills such as empathic listening (“I hear…”, “I understand…”). Use “I” statements by taking responsibility for your needs and expressing them clearly (“I would like…”, “I am asking you to…”). If the conversation escalates or turns argumentative, try “fogging” -- calmly restating the other person’s words/statements without agreeing. Developing these skills takes time and practice; for best results, start in a safe place.

Time is a great tool: take the time to journal, practice, and prepare; slow down and pause before reacting to an uncomfortable situation or unpleasant request; ask for time to respond; develop a strategy and weigh the risks and rewards of self-advocating.

Journaling can indeed help with decision-making before engaging in assertive communication. When deciding a way forward, ask yourself: “How important is it to me?” “What are the issues, the barriers, and the solutions available?” “What are the best, the worst, and the middle outcomes for me?”. And in the case you are afraid of having the conversation but really need to: “Who can help me prepare and give me knowledgeable advice?”.

If you struggle to communicate your needs and wish to become a more resilient scientist, reach out to an OITE Wellness Advisor: They can help you navigate the workplace and have the best experience possible. Also, check out the blog article “Saying “No” at Work” on the OITE Careers Blog.

*Previous blog post about Unit 1 and Unit 2: Being Proactive & Using Resources


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