On average, women are disparaged more than men for identical assertive behavior such as speaking out against injustice, negotiating for a higher salary, or merely going againist the norm. On the other hand, men, are judged less harshly for being domineering or being controlling.
Culture and I dare say religion have conditioned us to glorify meekness, humility, and gentleness. One often quoted proverbial saying is that a good African women should be seen and not heard. Assertiveness in women is therefore frowned upon especially when people equate it to being aggressive, pushy, or bitchy.
Assertiveness is a characterization of how a person responds in a situation in which her positions and/or interests are, or could be, in conflict with others’ positions or interests. Leaders, subordinates, and colleagues vary in their assertiveness and, accordingly, most of us can think of yielding and passive coworkers who have been swallowed up as well as bullies and jerks who have been spit out.
It is important to make a distinction between being assertive and aggressive as the line can be blurred. While assertiveness is based on being forthright about your wants and needs while still considering the rights, needs, and wants of others, being aggressive on the other hand is based on winning alone. It requires that you do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others. When you are aggressive, you take what you want regardless, and you don’t usually ask.
Being assertive is not necessarily easy, especially when the power dynamics might cause unfavorable consequences. Yet, I believe that more harm is done when people are either under assertive or over assertive. For instance, those who don’t assert themselves can be keeping critical ideas hidden, because they are afraid to speak out.
To a great extent, some level of assertiveness seems essential for personal and organizational effectiveness and yet, like so much else in life, too much assertiveness can be a bad thing. Getting assertiveness ‘‘right’’ appears to be a prevalent challenge for many women. When one is able to balance this critical skill with other vital leadership abilities, it can greatly amplify their power and impact.
Some of the ways to begin developing the “right” assertiveness are as follows;
- Know your rights, needs, and values
- Learn the art of developing consensus without shutting down any contrary opinions
- Choose to lead a revolution instead of a rebellion. Revolution is about inspiring people to come together to create something new. You build on hope and possibility.
- It is okay not to be liked. There will always be people who find fault with authority. There will always be people who are intimidated by strength, especially in women. There will always be people who don’t want to be accountable for their lives so they want to spend their time looking for what they can attack in other’s people words or personalities. Don’t give in by mirroring their behaviors. Let them call you whatever they like.