If you’re finding it difficult to be assertive in the workplace, know that you’re not alone. Even until today, society places an unnecessary amount of pressure on women to confine to gender norms. As a woman, you’re expected to show empathy and generosity to coworkers, and when you tip off the scale even by just a little, to behave in a firm and authoritative manner, the name-calling may start.
Some of the most powerful women, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was called “Attila the Hen”, and Angela Merkel an “ice cold angel” for being firm leaders. In pop culture, everyone remembers Miranda Priestly as that cruel boss in The Devil Wears Prada, less remember her for her stellar ability to lead an entire fashion magazine.
As you may already know, men don’t get the same treatment, but that’s for a completely separate post.
So why does it seem so hard to be assertive or accept assertive behaviour? In her book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want – How to be Assertive with Wit, Style and Grace, Mary Hartley explains that very often women want to be liked and are afraid of being viewed as aggressive.
If this is the reason inhibiting you from putting forward your thoughts in an open and honest way, know that being assertive is not the same as being aggressive.
You are being assertive when you engage honestly with others keeping their needs and positions in mind. Aggressive people on the other hand, ignore anyone else’s feelings and opinions, and bulldoze everyone else to get what they want.
We asked Sabrina Tan, chief executive of Skin Inc, which aims to enable, empower and elevate women in their careers, how she maintains a diplomatically assertive work environment and how you can too.
This usually starts on your own time at home. If you feel good about yourself, you will do great. Take the time to self-care, meditate, spend quality time with loved ones, workout, dress up… whatever it takes to make you feel special, healthy and satisfied in your personal life.
Be passionate and fearless.
With passion comes opinions, don’t be afraid to make your passion known even if it’s going to ruffle some feathers. People will have different perspectives and opinions, that’s okay. Remember that part of being a good leader is being a good listener. Once you hear them out, find the common ground in your disagreement. This builds alignment and will help create change in your direction.
Be mindful of your tone.
It’s human instinct to want to raise your voice if you’re upset and speak fast if you’re nervous. Take deep breathes and think before you speak. If you need a minute to collect your thoughts, don’t feel ashamed to ask for what you need.
Are you sugar coating?
Don’t be afraid to be bold. Present things in a way that allows you to be heard and understood, then you’ll see that people are more likely to align with your way of thinking. Apologize less and be accountable more—very often, people apologize in the workplace when it’s totally unnecessary; especially women.
You know that you’re not always right, neither is everyone else around you. Rather than focusing on complaining and blaming, focus on inspiring people to come together.