by Lisa Barone | Featured Contributor
Tips For Women To Be Assertive Without Being Disrespectful That was the HARO request in my inbox. It was from a freelance writer for a reputable outlet looking to help women assert themselves in the workplace without coming off as mean or rude. I tried my hardest, I really did, but I couldn’t for the life of me imagine a version of that article being written for men.
My calendar may say 2017 and it was only been a few weeks since millions of women and men took to the streets to be heard, but in many cases, it feels like we’re still here. Still being told how to act and how to behave in the workplace to be taken seriously. Still being told what to do, wear or say to prevent us from coming off as too assertive/ too bossy/ too masculine. We’re still being told Sunday should be used to bring our men breakfast in bed and to take care of the kids.
Even if you don’t buy into it, you’re still hearing it. I don’t want to tell women how to act or how to be assertive. Women should act the way they, personally, see fit. But I do think there’s value in calling out the subconscious things we do every day that undermine our own value. Things you may not have even be aware of or noticed until now. What are they?
We Use Weakened Language
Language breeds power. Our ability to communicate clearly and confidently has a great impact on our ability to be taken seriously and to rise in the workplace. Those who communicate well are seen as more intelligent and more competent (even when that is not the case). Which is why it’s so frustrating when we use language against ourselves. Go search your email. Bring up the last email correspondence where you had to offer criticism or check in on the progress of a colleague – male or female. Now count the language modifiers — anytime that you added a word or a phrase to soften the feedback you were delivering or to help yourself come off as “nicer.”
Unnecessary phrases such as:
I just feel that…
I just wanted to check in…
I just think that if we thought about it this way…
The culprit is “just”. It is the word that we use to weaken our message to seem friendlier, politer, or just not like a bitch. It takes our valid critique and softens it to a question, a suggestion, an almost-whine. “Just” gives someone permission to ignore our idea or comment. As women, we need to just stop doing it.
Another way we use language to give up power is through self-deprecation. We use qualifiers or simple statements to downgrade our expertise and authority to looks less confrontational.
We say things like:
“Maybe it’s me but…
“You’re far more of an expert here than I am”
“You might have more insight but…”
Own your statements and critiques. Softening your words to avoid offending others or to classify your recommendations as “something to consider” makes you seem less credible and your ideas less worthy. This isn’t to say that women should ignore social graces or be intentionally abrupt or harsh, but be aware of the unintended implications of the language you use and the way in which you share ideas/thoughts.
Two studies by the University of Waterloo in Ontario found that women apologize more than men. It’s not that men are unwilling to apologize, they simply have a higher threshold for what they felt they needed to apologize for. Men apologize when it is needed. Women apologize not because we are sorry or meek, but because we’ve adopted it as a knee-jerk reaction.
When we interject into a conversation – “Sorry, may I ask a question?”
When we decline an offer for coffee during a meeting – “Sorry, I don’t drink caffeine.”
When we have a difference of opinion – “Sorry, can I enter a different thought?”
“Sorry” has become a conversation filler. It downplays our strength in an effect to appear more likeable, more humble, more ladylike. But by apologizing for things we shouldn’t, we not only communicate that we’ve made an error when we haven’t, we damage our own confidence and credibility. Want to see it in action? Watch this.
It shows how women can change the conversation and stop apologizing. Sorry not sorry, but enough.
We Ignore Comments We Shouldn’t
I am an ignorer. I ignore inappropriate comments about my age, my appearance, my experience, my intelligence and my home life said to me by both men and women in the office. I ignore them because, to be honest, they don’t bother me. I let the comments slide off my back and I go on with my day, confident in my abilities and that most people mean no actual harm or disrespect. But more and more I think that is the wrong response. By ignoring the comments, I give that person and others permission to continue to make comments that I do not believe are their business or valid.
That’s unfortunate, but what is even more important is that by ignoring them I show the other women in the office – especially those junior to me or starting out in the workplace – that these comments are okay when, in fact, they are not.
Women shouldn’t have to tolerate comments or “jokes” that are disrespectful, even if the person making the comment meant no harm. We should demand better. Not doing so doesn’t help the many women on their way up the ranks.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to tell women how to act or how to be assertive in the workplace. That’s not my place or my intent. However, I do think it’s important that we, as women, have a different, more honest conversation about our own actions and what we need to do to stop sabotaging our own authority or success. You are smart. You are powerful. Don’t weaken it, or apologize for it
Lisa Barone, Overit CMO and Twitter loudmouth
Lisa is Chief Marketing Officer at Overit, an integrated digital agency with a passion for pairing daring creative with strategic execution and real world measurement. At Overit, Lisa works with clients, of all sizes, across all verticals, to develop messages that get heard, get acted upon and are remembered.
Lisa has been a constant voice of insight and reason in the search world for more than a decade. As a noted writer, she has founded and grown multiple award-winning blogs. She has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Inc. Magazine, Reuters, Intuit, Forbes, PBS, FOX News and others on subjects related to small business marketing, social media and search marketing.
She is fueled by (pumpkin) coffee, her son’s giggles, and really awful television.
Lisa Barone is Vice President of Brand at Overit, a creative marketing agency in Upstate New York. Lisa works with brands to distill and establish their voice before helping them create unified, people-first marketing strategies.
Every two weeks, Lisa pens Into & Overit, a love letter about marketing, brand, and the messy space where they intersect.