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As a working woman, have you ever been labelled aggressive when you were trying to be assertive?
Perhaps you were not able to stand up for yourself while someone else took credit for your work?
Or have you been accused of being overly ambitious when you were just trying to get ahead?
The past decades have brought many global changes to the workforce and the modern business environment. In SA, women now make up about 39 percent of the workforce and occupy about 11 percent of top managerial positions.
“There’s still a long way to go before we break through the glass ceiling,” says Robyn Farrell, managing director of 1st for Women Insurance Brokers, “but there are ways to increase your chances of success in your career.”
It’s been proved that assertive women are more successful at accumulating resources and more likely to bring about positive change.
“They manage to overcome adversity and emerge with greater strength than before. Many people tend to think that business success is about being rational and logical – mostly seen as male attributes,” explains Farrell. “But actually, the human element is critically important – a major soft skill you can develop is assertiveness.”
What exactly is assertiveness?
It’s being able to express your thoughts, beliefs and feelings in a confident, open and honest way.
It increases self-confidence and facilitates the communication of ideas at work. Being assertive isn’t just a matter of survival in the workplace, but an indirect and very powerful tool to increase productivity and efficiency.
“Learning to be assertive is essential when standing up for yourself in certain situations like put downs and asking for a raise,” Farrell says.
“It’s a skill that is not only crucial for the workplace, but for our personal life as well.
“Being assertive can be difficult, especially for women, even these days. Many women have been taught to be agreeable, passive, and polite, to avoid conflict and to make those around them feel at ease… But this isn’t the way to achieve any of your goals.
“Assertive individuals communicate confidently, use constructive feedback, try to understand others and acknowledge the value others bring. They are able to be sensitive to others while still standing up for their own rights.
“It’s about aiming for a win-win solution without allowing yourself to be pushed around,” adds Farrell.
The main characteristics of assertive communication are eye contact, non-intimidating body posture, appropriate gestures, a well-modulated voice and good timing, which will all maximise the impact of your message.
How, when and where you choose to comment is probably even more important than what you say.
An assertive woman deals with a stressful situation seeking resolution using direct, appropriate and honest forms of communication.
She is open, polite, has good self-esteem, and seeks to build others’ self-esteem. As a boss, she leads by example, but never seeks, nor avoids, confrontation.
“Sometimes assertiveness can seem hostile, but when it does it is usually warranted. Remember that to people who still think that women are not equals, any woman who asserts her rights might be seen as aggressive,” Farrell says.
On the other hand, aggressive people stand up for themselves at the expense of others, responding with anger, sarcasm, loudness and hostility. An aggressive woman may be self-centred and have low self-esteem that she boosts by putting others down.
She is often abrasive and forces others to accept that she is right.
As a boss, she forces her ideas on others, has to be in control and will belittle those who disagree.
People are the essence of business; whether they are managers or employees. And being an effective communicator is essential to success. Communicating assertively can mean the difference between closing a deal and losing it.
It can also mean the difference between effectively leading a team or causing it to fail. Studies indicate that women are more likely than men to possess the leadership qualities associated with success. They are better listeners and stimulate others to think outside the box, making them more inspirational.
“According to predictions, in the future, woman leaders will dominate because they are better suited to 21st-century leadership/management than men,” says Farrell.
Having good people skills allows a woman to build strong relationships with others and enhance her career. Developing these skills will ensure that others trust, respect and admire you in the workplace.