Assertiveness is about the behaviors of communicating confidently and assuredly. Women who communicate assertively can explicitly state their thoughts and feelings when necessary to ask for what they want.
In the workplace, this might also include sharing your good ideas with others. If we communicate assertively at work, we are much more likely to be taken seriously and be respected. Others will take our thoughts and opinions into consideration more often.
When we are assertive we:
These all sound like great things. So why aren’t women more assertive at work?
One genuine truth is that women face discrimination. If their assertive behavior tips into what is perceived as too much forcefulness, they can be labeled as aggressive, and they are then less liked. This is not the case with men! Men are rewarded for the same behavior. Women can suffer consequences such as less opportunity for promotion and less opportunity for salary increases.
What a terrible situation. We need women to be more assertive at work in order to be more successful and effective, but when they are, they may suffer consequences that hurt them! The discrimination is real.
An assertiveness tip to be more assertive at work
Below is a workaround that helps with this issue. Women can use and practice these three phrases to help with the perception that they are too aggressive in the workplace. This is unfair and ridiculous, but effective.
Use behavior, value and inoculation phrases when giving feedback that may be perceived as too aggressive or confrontational.
Examples are below.
Another reason women can’t be more assertive at work is that we are discouraged from being assertive in general. Most women are not socialized to be assertive. From an early age, girls are told not to be bossy, to please others, and to backseat our ideas because others are more important. Consider these issues and their role in your life. Be compassionate about your struggles with assertiveness. They are the reality in the life of many women.
False Beliefs and Thoughts
Often women aren’t assertive because they have false beliefs that translate into wrong thoughts. Sometimes these beliefs have to do with what assertiveness is.
Research shows that women believe being assertive is related to uncaring behavior. I often hear my clients say ” I don’t want to be mean ” when we have discussions about being assertive at work.
Ironically, often women who aren’t assertive wind up eventually being mean when resentment builds up. They lose their temper after holding in anger and unhappiness for so long.
Women may also believe they haven’t the right to express their thoughts or ideas. They may be fearful that their views are stupid. Many years of being unassertive and avoidant have become an established pattern. Behaving differently is something that is scary and seems impossible to do.
It is essential to be sensitive to the particular circumstances that make it difficult for you to be assertive as a woman. Do you have a toxic workplace that discourages female assertiveness? Is racism and white supremacy also part of the question for you? Do you have childhood or family issues that contribute? Or is there a history of abuse that factors into how you learned to communicate to survive? All of these issues may make it harder for you to adopt new and assertive communication skills. Depending on these issues, you may want to enlist in the help of a therapist.
Part of what I hear prevents my clients when trying to be more assertive at work is what they say to themselves about the situations that arise at work. Often what they are saying to themselves originates in beliefs they have about themselves and their circumstances.
I have had a handout that highlights what mistaken beliefs you may have learned as a child and carried into adulthood.
Below is the handout verbatim. These are not my ideas but are so relevant, and I have shared them with my clients repeatedly over the years.
Traditional Assumptions versus Legitimate rights Handout ( Michelle Davis 1995)
You did not have as much choice about which traditional assumptions you were taught as a child. Now, however, you have the option of deciding whether to continue behaving according to assumptions that keep you from being an assertive adult.
Each of these mistaken assumptions
violates one of your legitimate rights as an adult:
Your Legitimate Rights
If you’re like most people, your behavior reflects some mistaken traditional assumptions.
The more that you can start living your legitimate rights, the more likely it is that you will allow yourself to make important changes in your life that will affect every other area of your life.
You will value yourself more and become a better person in the process.
Do you recognize any false beliefs in the handout above? How do you think these beliefs might influence what you say to yourself?
Below are some examples of how beliefs and self-talk are related.
If you don’t believe that you have the right to say no, what might you say to yourself in a situation where someone is asking you to do something you dont want to do or don’t have the time to do?
How might that impact your work performance or your relationship with that person?
If you don’t believe you have the right to protest unfair treatment or criticism, what will happen if someone mistreats you?
If you believe that you cannot make mistakes, what kind of behavior and self-talk will this lead to when you make a mistake?
Your self-talk will not be one of self-compassion
You may try to hide your mistakes
You may be overly defensive
Body Language and Voice Tone
Body language and voice tone are crucial to assertiveness skills at work. When you have recognized how your beliefs have held you back, you can adopt this on the outside.
If you believe that your ideas are valid, this will translate into a tone of voice and posture that is calm, relaxed, and confident.
If you believe that you have no right to this, you will stammer hesitate and fail to make eye contact.
People who are assertive behave towards others pleasantly and calmly. They listen respectfully to others with curiosity and calmly explain their thoughts, ideas and needs.
It is important to remember that assertiveness is much more likely to achieve results. People are more likely to like you. It produces increased confidence and builds better relationships.
References for how to be more assertive at work
Eng, Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., & McKay, M. (1995). The relaxation & stress reduction workbook . Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Emotional Inequality: Skills to Minimize Social Backlash David Maxfield, Joseph Grenny & Chase McMillan
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