It’s a common misconception that for women to be more assertive at work, they need to be aggressive. That’s not the case. Assertiveness and aggression are very different. While aggression is a negative form of expression that puts others down, assertiveness is a positive, more productive form of communication. When you assert your value, you are not only respecting yourself but others as well.
Yet, women suffer from the “double bind” or assertiveness penalty, as described in a study published in Organization Science. The research revealed that women often face backlash when they are unable to display both warmth and competence in the boardroom—commonly referred to as the double bind. Women are constantly having to adapt to gendered expectations, which might explain why women (46%) reported higher levels of burnout than men (37%), according to research from Future Forum.
You don’t have to be a bulldozer personality at work to get ahead. Here are five ways women can be more assertive at work.
If women are going to excel in their careers, they need to feel comfortable self-promoting and asking for what they want (sometimes more than once). One way women can be more assertive at work is by explaining to their boss why they deserve a pay increase. For example, maybe you’ve been taking on responsibilities beyond your job scope. Or you can highlight how you’ve made the organization more profitable. Sometimes your manager isn’t even aware of all the projects you’re working on, so creating a presentation they can share with the leadership team is a good idea. If your boss says no, be prepared to negotiate and offer alternatives.
Employ assertive language
The statements and advice of women are commonly less believed than those of their male counterparts. One reason is that in the workplace, how you say something is as important as what you say. A study published in Management Science found that when women used assertive language, their advice was just as likely to be followed as the men’s. In other words, the gender gap disappeared.
Some ways to employ assertive language at work include:
- Making clear and direct requests
- Speaking up at the moment instead of waiting
- Refraining from apologizing when asking for something
In time, practicing assertive communication will help you gain your manager’s and co-workers’ respect while building confidence and self-awareness.
Set healthy boundaries
Another way women can be more assertive at work is by learning to set boundaries. When you establish healthy limits and maintain them, you’ll work smarter, avoid burnout and feel more in control of your career. Start by asking yourself what you need to protect your happiness at work. Then, once you identify your priorities and values, communicate them clearly and often. Inevitably, someone will violate your boundaries. Be prepared by deciding in advance how you’ll handle the situation. That way, you’ll be ready for any scenario that presents itself.
There can be a tendency for women to avoid disagreements at work for fear of alienating the people around you. Yet, workplace conflict can be productive. Differences of opinion can help you foster new ideas, reach better solutions and acknowledge different perspectives. If you handle it properly, you can also increase trust by creating a safe space for people to collaborate effectively. The key is to foster a healthy, inclusive environment so co-workers can be transparent and vulnerable.
Build your personal brand
A strong personal brand can be a game-changer at work. In fact, research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows that cultivating your personal brand is one of the best ways to attract a sponsor—and people with sponsors are 23% more likely to move up in the organization than their peers. Your personal brand lets people know who you are and what you stand for. First, identify your unique value proposition. In other words, what makes you different from your colleagues? Then think about what you want your end goal to be. Is it to establish yourself as a thought leader or position you for career advancement? Finally, expand your networking pool to promote yourself inside and outside the organization. With time and consistency, you’ll develop a strong, cohesive personal brand.
Women often find themselves walking a fine line between being seen as agreeable and competent. While likeability is important, it should not come at the expense of respect. Being assertive at work means accepting that you can’t please everyone. Once you acknowledge that, it will be easier to step into your power and take control of your career.