It’s no news that women should strive to be more assertive. Not only are we generally raised in a society, maybe even family, that enforces (intentionally or not) docility or affability before self-expression and independence but also we have millenia of that conditioning running through our veins. Some say our means of survival, both physically and emotionally, during our gathering days was by remaining passive and likable–basically, not a threat.
But times have changed. If you want people–but more importantly yourself–to take you more seriously, you have to work on being more confident. You become more confident by seeming more confident and you seem more confident by being assertive.
Being assertive is not to be confused with being aggressive. The former is all about putting yourself out there by putting out your opinions, your ideas, your voice. The latter is about being pushy towards others in a way that makes them uncomfortable for good reason.
The balance of being assertive and aggressive, while tricky in general, is even trickier for women who run the risk of being called an unlikable, aggressive bitch, no matter how diplomatic they try to be.
The balance is tricky precisely because a universal balance does not exist. Some people are more sensitive than others, which is fine. Some environments or situations call for more assertion than others, which can get “aggressive.” Some people are outright sexist pigs or misogynists.
That is why the first step is to forget about it–you can’t please them all, especially if they don’t want to be pleased. Just the act of expressing yourself as a woman is an offense to certain people–and if so, that’s their problem, not yours. Do not let them keep you from being assertive for fear of coming off aggressive. That’s on them, not you. So just remove them from the equation altogether.
Now that leaves us with just you.
Allow yourself to explore your assertion because that will lead to greater confidence and movement forward in your life. This means that you need to remove self-doubt from how you express yourself, which is the main point of today’s post. This is something I noted over and over again in emails I send out to friends or colleagues and in conversations. If you even revisit past blog posts, you are sure to see them.
This is different from constantly apologizing or organizing thoughts through “hmms” and “umms.” Those topics have been explored enough at this point (although here’s another good read about saying sorry). This is undercutting your words from self-distrust (leading to uncertainty) and a womanly desire to maintain affability (contributing to people pleasing), with a little bit of not wanting to be called out for being wrong (a symptom of the fixed mindset).
This is adding disclaimers when talking about things that you feel sure about or know as facts. Such phrases include, “I think…” “I guess…” “sort of…” “…or whatever,” and, “…does that make sense?” Whether you are right or not, if you sound like you are doubting yourself, others will doubt you, as well. And why should you doubt yourself from the get-go over a fact or your own opinion? Do not sound stubborn or close-minded, of course (another tricky balance to master), but do not sound like you don’t even believe in what you are saying at that moment. And do not use these phrases to navigate all social situations to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. If you go back to the good article I linked above, just like profusely apologizing, it can actually be counterintuitive (as in whomever you’re speaking to feels like the bad person, which causes defensiveness and/or irritability).
An article I read about recently (which I can no longer find for some reason…) discusses how people are automatically viewed as more trustworthy if they are confident. Whether they are actually qualified or not does not matter. They will be entrusted with more things than someone who actually is more qualified but does not seem confident in his or her abilities. Is this always practical? No. Does it make sense, though? Yes. It makes so much sense, whether it’s right or not.
If you were to leave your baby with a sitter, would you want one with no experience but who seems confident and at ease with your baby or would you want one with a lot of experience but who seems nervous and fidgety?
If you don’t sound confident, you are not only undercutting yourself but allowing others to undercut you. The more “I guess’s” and “sort of’s” you have, the more the other person is looking for holes to poke into your overall story or point. You are already providing plenty of targets with these self-doubting phrases, so there has to be other areas of weakness in your argument, right? You certainly don’t sound sure of yourself. A lot of the times this goes beyond eloquence–this shows uncertainty.
Of course this won’t solve everything. People may still ignore you or undermine you. And you definitely shouldn’t con your way through life with confidence and assertion (don’t be like that Fyre guy). I’m not saying, “Fake it ’til you make it,” even though that can be a valid point. I’m saying if you are actually knowledgeable about a topic or genuinely believe in something, there’s no reason to not sound knowledgeable or sure about your opinion by watering down whatever you say with unhelpful words and phrases.
Remember, confidence is not about being showy or aggressive. But I don’t want you to ignore or undermine yourself. In a sense, confidence may be the most important thing, the basic key to everything. I would argue compassion is, but how would your compassion shine if you are hiding it within yourself?
I want people to embrace themselves as important members of the community; only then can they be helpful members of the community.
You are important, so start talking like you are.