3 steps for women to become more assertive

I was emailing with a friend the other day and we were discussing her professional future.  In our conversation I realized how humble she was in spite of her incredible CV and achievements so far.  I pointed this out to her and she wrote to me that a part of her felt guilty when she expressed confidence in her skills.  I started writing to her about why I feel that it is hard for women to be assertive as we are actually programmed not to be.  After writing a few sentences I felt the urge to post a blog article and share some of my thoughts with a wider audience.

Courses about assertiveness abound, and actually as a woman you might almost feel guilty if you lack this much demanded skill. So why is it so hard for us to be self-assured and confident without being aggressive (common definition).  By the way, it is interesting that the definition implies that if you are self-assured and confident, it is highly likely that you will also be aggressive.

I think there are 3 main reasons why we, women, have difficulty being assertive and feel guilty when we are. And hence 3 steps to take in order to reverse the programme!

1)  Society in general expects women to be compliant.  Women are programmed to take care of others before worrying about themselves.  As wives and mothers, society expects us to satisfy our kids’ and husbands’ needs before our own.  This quickly becomes a natural trait and, in groups, we tend to satisfy other people’s or the system’s needs first.  This “programme” stops us from expressing our needs and wants, or opinions, let alone in an assertive way.

2)  We mix up behavior and identity.  When one expresses confidence in one’s skills, it’s like we are making a statement about our identity, although these are two very different things.  Behaviours, skills and competencies relate to the “WHAT” and the “HOW”, whereas identity has to do with the “WHO”.  Basically when you express confidence in your ability to do certain things, you merely indicate that you have successfully acquired a knowledge or competence, and not that you are great or fantastic and flying high on an ego trip. This is true for both women and men of course.

3)  It is very hard to let go of other people’s judgment. Let’s assume that you manage to reprogramme yourself to express your needs and wants (step one), and not confuse skills and identity (step 2), are you ready to not care about what other people may think or say about you?  What if they say that you are selfish?  Arrogant?  Aggressive?  Ambitious?  A killer?  A bitch?  One thing is for sure:  you can’t control what people think or say about you and whatever you do or say, they will have an opinion about you, for which you are not 100% responsible.  And by the way, what people say about you (especially negatively) says a lot about THEIR hopes and fears or emotional states, and not so much about who you are. Think about this the next time you hear criticism about you and ask yourself what this says about the person expressing it. It is quite an interesting exercise, I assure you!

So what stands in YOUR way to becoming more assertive and confident? I’d love to have your comments!


One thought on “3 steps for women to become more assertive

  1. Great post! The piece about separating behaviour and identify is the crux of the matter I believe. It is so difficult when we have been conditioned to measure ourselves and others by extrinsic indicators. It starts right from infancy when mothers in the playground assess how well developed a child is by whether they are walking by their first birthday or talking in full sentences by their second, continues on to measurement of one’s intelligence by using standardised assessments which are often not even relevant to today’s workplace, and finally by looking at one’s trappings to measure the relative success of that individual versus others. Much education is needed to free oneself from the confines of being judged and indeed judging others.

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