'Assertive' is the new norm
My first SHERO was my Punjabi boss whose only feedback to me during my first annual performance appraisal was ‘be more assertive’. At that time, I honestly didn’t have a clue what she meant. After all, I was a naïve Goan whose inherent trait was to be hospitable patsy. A common surname led colleagues to mistake me for others who blindly asked for favors. I often obliged, even at the expense of my own workload. Working in a male dominated manufacturing industry and privy to leadership meetings, I’ve witnessed how women with opposing perspectives are often silenced – sometimes middle of a statement even. I used to easily give way to conceptual disagreements with seniors, only because I felt ‘it was the right thing to do’.
8 years later, my boss turned entrepreneur, successfully launched small scale ventures and now freelances for a range of high profile clients. I am still where I was, but obliging and conceding only when necessary. In fact, now the bouncing board for various departments’ new policies/initiatives and known for ‘saying it how it is.’
For women especially, being assertive is not only a good thing, it’s necessary to be successful – perhaps even for survival. Assertiveness is not about being stubborn or arrogant or head strong. It is about being true to what you believe in. To know what you want, how to get it, and how to get things done.
But being assertive doesn’t come easily to us. It is not in our nature. It’s not how society nurtured us. However, here are some perspectives you may keep in mind when trying to be assertive.
1. Trust those feminine instincts
Face it, the reason men want women at the workplace, is because we DO bring something valuable to the table. Take any diversity and inclusivity survey. They want more women around to lend a unique feminine perspective. That’s why in medieval times, men settled disputes on the battle field. So be confident. Speak up. Voice your views. And stick to them.
2. Understand your audience
Having worked in advertising, our main KRA was selling the idea. But before that, was understanding who is the client – who your idea should even appeal to. Understand who is on the other side of the table, their circumstances, their baggage and their challenges. And present your arguments accordingly.
3. Research and articulate
The key is presenting a well-articulated, an undisputable and in-depth point of view. If you have an opinion, you must be able to holistically justify its reasons and consequences. Don’t expect others to go by your views just cos you said so.
4. Don’t guilt away your rights
Initially, I used to be afraid or feel guilty to ask for leaves, thinking my boss will get upset or everything would collapse without me. As a result, I often lost many leaves while others pursued their adventures. I realized the hard way that leaves (among other things) are my entitlements. So are half days, sick days, work from home days. I deserve them. So why hesitate. Assert your rights. And don’t feel guilty in doing so.
5. Never apologize for digressing
When a room full of Neandertals (you know it) unanimously agree on something (mostly to tick items off a checklist), it’s ok to interrupt and make them rethink a decision. A different perspective could often bring a fresh new approach to a situation which no one anticipated. No matter how silly it may seem, make sure you are heard. After that if they disagree, never apologize. Your view is your view. Keep them coming.
6. On/off switch
Sometimes it’s just not worth being adamant just for the sake of it. Pick your battles wisely. After all, you don’t want to be labelled ‘The Office Sceptic’.
7. When all else fails, transference
At the risk of sounding manipulative, the secret to getting your way, is to make others believe it was their idea in the first place. How does it matter who takes the credit? If you are really passionate about your cause, what matters is your argument is agreed upon.
So ladies, don’t hesitate to jump on the assertive train and enjoy the ride. A mature organization will appreciate you for it. If not, the expressions of your undiscerning passerby will be priceless.