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How Women Can Be More Assertive in the Workplace

Anna Johansson

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Most people are raised to understand the safety and protection that stems from avoiding unnecessary conflict. And while there's something to be said for not being combative and aggressive, too much conflict avoidance can actually lead people to be less assertive than they should.

While not a problem that's specific to any gender, women seem to have a more glaring issue with a lack of assertiveness in the workplace. And whether we realize it or not, it's impacting our ability to accomplish our most ambitious goals.

Why Do Women Lack Assertiveness?

There's no scientific explanation for why a lack of assertiveness tends to be more prevalent in women than men, but there are some driving forces behind this issue. Most notably:


  • Archaic social expectations—For centuries, women weren't a major force in the workplace. We were expected to stay at home, cook, care for children, and assume a rather submissive role. This has obviously changed over the past 50-plus years, but some women have a hard time shaking off these archaic social expectations and let it permeate their thinking.


  • Lack of equality—For as much progress as we've made in earning a seat at the corporate table, it would be misleading to say that we've achieved gender equality in the workplace. We're still paid less than our male counterparts, and certain perceptions still linger in a patriarchal corporate world where men continue to have a leg up. This can easily rub off on how we think—leading to a lack of assertiveness in certain environments.


  • Personality strengths—As women, we tend to possess better social skills than men. We value relationships and acceptance. And while this can be a great thing, the flip side is that we're often wary of alienation. So rather than speak our minds and risk being ostracized, we simply remain quiet.


Unfortunately, a lack of assertiveness can make someone come across as weak and easily intimidated. It stunts career growth opportunities and limits the ability to lead others. So rather than let it fester beneath the surface, it's important that something is done about it.

Practical Ways to Be More Assertive at Work

Every woman is different. For some, assertiveness isn't an issue. However, it's something that many openly struggle with. As a result, it's an issue that we need to stop disguising and start addressing.

When grappling with issues, shortcomings, and challenges, here are some simple ways to become more assertive in the workplace and enjoy greater success.

Stop Using Weak Language

"Women have a tendency to use what we call 'weaker language,' Careerstone Group explains. "For example, women tend to predicate what they say, as in: 'I think this is a good idea,' or 'I feel that is the right way to go,' or 'We might want to consider this option.'"

In order to be more assertive, stop using weak language that hedges risk and provides escape routes. Assertive speakers say things like, "We need to do this;" or "This is the best option."

Speak in Headlines

When nervous about saying something, it's easy to ramble and bury the idea in a tsunami of words. Unfortunately, this makes the statement muddled and ineffective.

"When sharing an idea or expressing your thoughts, try to think of the headline you want to communicate in advance and stick to that when relaying your message," career coach Ravelle Washington suggests. "This little trick will help you to share your thoughts concisely and clearly, without rambling."

Know Your Rights

In some cases, one just needs to be reminded of their rights. This is a time when both men and women have the same rights—legally speaking. While there may be underlying biases in the workplace, speak up and let thoughts be known. Use this to justify confidently expressing ideas.

Control Non-Verbal Communication

Being assertive isn't just about relaying strong words. One can also be more assertive in how they carry themself.

Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Take some time to consider what body language, facial expressions, and gestures say. Tweak them, and it'll be easier to be assertive in verbal communication.

Assertive, Not Aggressive

There's a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. When wanting to become more assertive in the workplace, avoid crossing too far over. Aggression will go nowhere fast.

When becoming more assertive, one will find themself in uncomfortable situations. Push through, and don't listen to the internal voices saying to be quiet. They are valid opinions, and they should be heard and respected.

Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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