It’s a common misconception that assertiveness means being hostile, difficult, rude and self-promoting. While they can coexist, assertiveness doesn’t mean being aggressive or loud. Lauren Powell, Psy.D., clinical psychologist, said, “society as a whole values women who are passive and agreeable.” For this reason, women silence themselves fearing they’ll be seen as bossy, demanding or high-maintenance.
Instead of advocating for themselves, women remain silent, stretch themselves thin by always saying yes, bend their boundaries for others and do things that don’t make them happy. As a result, they hold themselves back. Michael Hamelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group, “believes that women are capable of rising through the ranks whether in business, politics or any organization, based on their talent, skills and capabilities alone.” Yet, in order to rise through the ranks, they need to be more assertive to be seen and get what they want.
Here are three effective tips for women to be more assertive in the workplace.
Aim To Develop Your Personal Brand And Leadership Identity
Women face many obstacles in the workplace today. One of these obstacles is not receiving equal pay to their male counterparts. In 2020, Payscale released the Gender Pay Gap Report that revealed women only make $0.81 for every dollar a man makes. Taking into account the number of raises given over a 40-year career, women lose an average of $900,000 over their lifetime.
Recently, Mercer conducted an analysis of more than 1,100 organizations around the world and found that only a small portion of women currently hold a leadership position. Despite more women in America holding bachelor’s degrees and outpacing men in the total number of doctorate and master’s degrees earned, only 23% of women are in senior vice president positions and even less (21%) are in the C-suite. The reality is, women don’t actively pursue these high level positions because they lack the confidence, leadership identity and assertiveness to do so. As a consequence, 62% of women have been passed over for a promotion in favor of a male employee.
Developing a personal brand and leadership identity isn’t exclusive to formally holding a leadership position. It’s about nurturing a strong and confident presence inside and outside of the workplace. Furthermore, it’s how you show up, take on new challenges, question the status quo, share ideas, engage in difficult conversations and make an impact.
Women with a strong leadership identity are those who communicate clearly, choose to respond tactfully instead of reactively, have a strong sense of purpose and values, and know how to effectively advocate for themselves. Developing a strong personal brand and leadership identity requires consistent effort.
Here are some ways you can start:
> Speak with your manager and ask for mentorship and leadership development
> Improve confidence by practicing power poses
> Seek out resources such as books, podcasts and workshops to develop effective leadership skills (strengthening conflict management, speaking confidently, improving body language, building relationships, etc...)
> Define your values and commit to them even if that means being the only one to speak up when something is wrong or unethical
Ask The Right Questions
Women often shy away from speaking up in meetings due to not believing that their ideas, opinions, questions or beliefs are valuable. However, it’s important to remember that you were hired because the company believes you’re capable. Moreover, you bring diverse skills, views and experience. By not using your voice, you’re essentially doing a disservice to the growth and success of your team and the company. Patricia Thompson, PhD, president of Silver Lining Psychology, shared, “if you’re the sort of person who’s reluctant to speak up because you question the value of what you have to say, you might often find your ideas and contributions getting overlooked.”
Asking clarifying and open-ended questions helps to make expectations clear while eliminating confusion and mistakes. Research by the Harvard Business School revealed that those who ask questions and seek advice are seen as more competent by their peers than those who remain silent. Individuals who fail to ask questions lose out on knowledge sharing opportunities. Furthermore, seeking advice and asking for help exposes a bit of vulnerability that is the currency in which people use to build relationships. Additionally, it demonstrates a willingness to learn from others.
Give Yourself Permission To Take Up Space
Being assertive means setting boundaries and remaining firm whether it applies to availability, responsibility or salary negotiation. Learning to say no challenges women to overcome their fear of rejection while making others respect her boundaries and time. Women fear that advocating for themselves or disagreeing with a person will make them seem difficult or unlikeable. This is because women have been taught that they need to be nice and accommodating, which in turn, has led them to put others first in an effort to not be seen as unkind or rude. Try to remember, you’re not disagreeing with the person, rather the opinion they’re expressing.
Dr. Sheva Assar, licensed clinical psychologist explained, “assertive communication is simply expressing your perspective in a clear and direct way that is respectful of both your experiences, as well as those of the listener.” She added, “it’s significantly different from aggressive communication, which tends to focus only on the needs of the speaker.”
Studies show that women apologize more often than men because they have a lower threshold for what they consider to be offensive. There’s a difference between apologizing when taking responsibility for a mistake and being a serial apologist. In fact, compulsively apologizing is seen as a weakness because the apology is given when it isn’t necessary.
Here are a few phrases you can use in place of habitually saying “I’m sorry”:
> Rather than saying “I’m sorry, that time doesn’t work for me”, say “unfortunately, that time doesn’t work for me.”
> Use “excuse me, could you repeat that?” instead of “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”
> Ask “could you please send me that document by the end of the day today?” in place of “I’m sorry to bother you, but can you send me that document when you have time?”
Lastly, being a people pleaser indicates a lack of boundaries. Setting boundaries is a way of asserting ones needs. Women tend to overburden themselves by always saying yes to extra work when they don’t have the time. This results in them missing out on opportunities due to working late, canceling appointments and having to say no to things that make them happy. As a result, resentment, stress and frustration builds.
Starting today, give yourself permission to set and reinforce boundaries. By doing so, it’ll prevent burnout, increase productivity and allow you to be more successful in your personal and professional life.