Many women still have a tougher go of it in the workplace than men. The pandemic hit them particularly hard and demands to return to the office pose problems for those struggling with childcare issues. They need to set firm boundaries and advocate for themselves.
They need confidence and a clear, firm communication style to do so. It can be tough to develop a no-nonsense persona if you’re a people-pleaser, but overcoming your innate timidity can make or break your career. Here’s how to be more assertive as a woman in business.
Assertiveness, Aggressiveness and Passivity
Before becoming more assertive as a woman in business, you need to understand the term. Far too many assume it means bullying others or acting unpleasant to get their way — but such approaches typically backfire. Instead, it’s best to define assertiveness as behaving in a manner likely to achieve your aims, such as earning a promotion or WFH privileges.
This definition will help you remember assertiveness isn’t equivalent to bossiness or getting all eyes on them. That’s good news for women with social anxiety who sometimes turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol to give themselves the illusion of confidence in business settings. You can stand up for your rights without demanding to be the center of attention.
You can define the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness this way — assertiveness keeps other people’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs in mind while expressing yours. In contrast, aggressiveness steamrolls others with no regard for their perspective or emotion. It’s the difference between asking, “Would you please pass the salt?” and demanding, “Hand over the salt and pepper already! What’s the matter with you?”
However, that doesn’t mean being passive. A passive person would sullenly eat their unseasoned meal or go hungry if their request for the salt shaker went ignored. An assertive person would simply stand up and get it themselves. An aggressive one might do the same but slam their chair noisily against the table to show their ire.
The Role of Assertiveness in the Business World
Assertiveness matters in the business world because it smooths relationships and reduces stress. Such communication is clear, leaving no room for doubt. Think about how frustrated you felt the last time you had to ferret out someone else’s feelings.
You need assertiveness to do everything from asking your boss for a raise to sealing the deal with a new client. It helps you build respect among your colleagues and collaborate more effectively. It also lets you remain calm when things get chaotic.
Women often struggle with assertiveness because they learn from a young age saying “no” gets them in trouble. Society often conditioned them to worry more about other people’s emotions than doing the right thing for them. However, a more confident approach soothes feelings on every side by reducing resentment and ensuring all parties get at least some of their needs met.
Tips for Becoming More Assertive as a Woman in Business
How can you become more assertive as a woman in business? Follow these practical tips to increase your confidence and delivery.
1. Learn to Set Boundaries
The uneven power dynamic sometimes complicates setting boundaries at work. After all, most mere mortals need their paychecks. However, you’ll enjoy your daily existence, develop a better work-life balance and be more productive once you learn to set boundaries.
For example, if your boss plops another project onto your already-full plate, you might say, “I’m happy to prioritize this assignment. What other tasks would you like me to move so I can get this done first?”
Likewise, you might have been hired remotely during the pandemic but recently got ordered to the office. If doing so will negatively impact your performance or lifestyle, set up an appointment with your boss. You might say, “A commute wasn’t part of our original agreement and it increases my expenses. Can we negotiate a travel stipend?”
2. Maintain Eye Contact and Offer a Firm Handshake
Your body language says a lot about your confidence. Here’s a trick to maintain eye contact — look at a spot on the other person’s forehead between their eyebrows. It’s less intimidating than locking eyes but gives them the impression that you’re gazing directly at them.
Make a small bottle of hand sanitizer your best friend. That alcohol comes in handy for drying your palms before shaking hands.
3. Remain Mindful of Your Emotions
Dysregulated, out-of-control emotions can make you sound aggressive or even petulant. Learn how to keep your feelings in check and take time-outs when necessary to collect yourself before continuing. For example, it’s acceptable to say, “I’d like to take a break,” if a meeting grows too tense. Use the time to walk around the building and mindfully breathe.
4. Use “I” Statements
Part of assertive behavior is taking ownership of your actions and feelings. You can do so by using “I” statements. For example — “I feel overwhelmed right now,” not “You throw way too much work on my desk.”
5. Learn to Respond to Others’ Behavior
It’s easy to remain calm and assertive when others behave as you predict they will. However, bosses and customers sometimes lose their tempers or behave in unexpected ways. Prepare yourself to handle such situations without losing your cool.
6. Ask Others for Their Opinions
Remember, part of being assertive is considering the feelings of others. Ask your colleagues for their input and opinions. Doing so also lets them know you value their expertise and makes them feel appreciated.
7. Know Your Rights
It helps to know what you can request in the business world. For instance, you might mention that telecommuting is a reasonable accommodation if doing so doesn’t affect your performance. Stating your needs and asking for ways to improve your situation is perfectly understandable and well within your rights.
There are also some legal aspects of being a worker you should know. If your employer or co-workers ever challenge your rights, speaking up about it is vital.
Becoming a More Assertive Businesswoman
Women need assertiveness in the business world. Setting boundaries and clearly communicating can increase their satisfaction in their careers.
Follow the tips above to become more assertive as a woman in business. You’ll repay yourself with better working conditions and a healthier relationship with your boss and colleagues.