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Is 'assertive' a dirty word in your organisation?


Oh she’s ‘Assertive!’ – When have you heard that phrase? I’ve heard it many times in my career and I can tell you that it didn’t really mean that ‘she’ was assertive at all, it meant that ‘she’ was aggressive.

In the 1980’s women were sent on ‘Assertiveness’ courses and some of us were power-dressing! Just that word alone makes me shiver. Power for who? For us? Or to enable us to have power in a male dominated world. However, what we were being taught was to, yes, stand up for ourselves and state our needs, but not to listen or take on board anyone else’s point of view. We were taught to be loud, to change our tone of voice, to make ourselves look bigger (Oh those shoulder pads!), in other words to match the dominant males we were going to make listen to us.

It’s still happening – I’ve been doing some research recently on the different, specific skills, if any, female leaders need to be successful at work. One of our clients told me – “I have heard some managers comment that some female leaders are aggressive, when perhaps they mean ‘assertive’ and the males are perceived as a strong leader when they behave in the same way”.

I would like to start a campaign that takes away the ‘dirty word’ association from Assertive and people use it to mean what it was meant to:

 ‘Someone who is assertive states their needs and opinions clearly, so that people take notice’.

It’s International Women’s day today! ‘Balance for Better’ and we are working with clients who are trying to re-dress, (not power-dress!) the balance, to enable women to reach their potential in their chosen fields.

We’re still talking about ‘assertiveness’ but in its true sense. It’s a ‘balance’ in stating your needs and also listening to understand.