How often have you heard coworkers describe a woman as bitchy, aggressive, ballsy or emotional just for speaking her mind?
Sadly there’s a double standard in the workplace.
A man gets really excited in the board room, thumps his fists on the table and shouts across the room at his colleagues, and we think “He’s really passionate about this project.”
A woman does the same and you wouldn’t be surprised to hear people describing her as overly emotional, spiteful or jealous. Yet it’s the same behaviour.
Culturally we have different expectations of behaviour in the workplace for women and men.
As children, in the playground, boys want to be the biggest, the strongest, the fastest. Girls want to be the nicest, the most popular, and have the most friends. That continues through to adulthood in the office.
Therefore when women behave assertively and confidently, it is viewed as more aggressive behaviour than when men behave assertively and confidently. Because we have different expectations.
Read up on this in Inge Woudstra’s book Be Gender Smart in which she shares insights from neuroscience and bio-psychology on gender difference.
In the meantime, let’s explore:
How to be assertive in the workplace (and not get labelled ‘aggressive’)
Stop asking so many questions because it drives people crazy. Women tend to want to ask lots of questions however this often can be perceived as criticism or a lack of confidence.
Instead of asking “Why did you take that decision? ” instead reframe into something more positive “I’d like to understand more about the reasoning behind the decision“.
Don’t ramble because when you do, many people will just switch off and stop listening. Your idea goes unnoticed.
As women, we tend to be more focused on the detail but when you’re presenting an idea, focus on the big idea, not the detail.
Stay calm and watch your voice It’s natural for our voice to rise when you are frightened or under stress. If you have a tendency to speak quickly when you’re nervous, try and pause to take a couple of deep breaths to slow down your heartbeat. Consciously think about taking a deep breath and slowing down to relax yourself.
Take up space at the table The next time you go to a meeting, watch how others take up space at the table. Be aware of how you take up space too. What does your body language say about you?
Don’t slink into the room and sit in the corner. Take up space at the table. Put your elbows on the table and lean in slightly. This might not feel comfortable or natural at first but try it out.
Project confidence through your voice even you don’t feel it inside. Your voice and your body language are closely connected. In meetings, keep your shoulders relaxed, your feet firmly on the ground and your head up. (Not star gazing but in front, not looking down).
Watch your language Don’t keep apologising, scattering ‘sorry’ throughout the conversation. Don’t keep saying ‘just’ or ‘only’. These words diminish what you are saying.
Sure, if you make a mistake, acknowledge the error, fix it and move on. Be aware of the language that you use and what it projects.
Walk tall When somebody walks into the room, we tend to make a snap judgement on that person based on the way they carry themselves. When you think of a confident person, what body language comes to mind? Use this to your advantage.
First impressions count. Stand tall. Think about your body language at meetings – do you wrap yourself up to make yourself small? This might be subconscious but next time you are in a meeting, notice what you notice about the way you sit.
Take ownership Own your contributions. Don’t brush away compliments and credit. Learn to take the credit. While it may be true that your team worked hard, were creative and responded positively to the challenge, every team has a leader. Without you as the leader, the team might not have performed as well.
Many women make the mistake of thinking that working hard gets you promoted. But it’s not enough. Hard work alone does not get you recognition.
Just say no to staying late or taking on an extra project or meeting on Friday when you normally work from home. You don’t need to justify or give a reason. A simple “I’m not available on Friday at 10am, how about Thursday at 10am instead?“.
Use assertive not passive language it’s all about being assertive not aggressive or passive. I love the examples that Chris Herndon at Full Cup Coaching shares on how to use assertive, not passive language.