The Art of Assertiveness – How to accelerate your career (and your relationships)
We recently ran a workshop in Manchester. A taster session of our first secret – You’re Pretty Confident”. After the stress of the proverbial technical set up challenges (goes with the frickin territory!) it went really well and we had 25 women who had a jolly good time (there were cupcakes and cocktails), learnt something about themselves and a few commented on how inspired they were – great news! That’s exactly why Violet & Charlie exists – to create strong, empowered and fulfilled women.
That said, it didn’t come easy – for us or for them. To make those leaps in self development requires a significant dose of self awareness by staring at ones mush in the mirror and a fair degree of skill.
The skill that I’m predominantly referring to here is Assertiveness.
Assertiveness on our part to be able to challenge whilst supporting people through their development and assertiveness on their part to be able to state confidently their wants and needs for the future.
Now, both at the workshop, and “out in the field” we regularly meet women who are finding it tough to manage relationships both in and out of work which ultimately hold them back from achieving the fulfilling life they deserve.
In a work context, it often looks something like this: A woman has progressed her career through her 20’s and made it to a middle management job. She still has aspirations to take her career further. For some (but not all), in her early 30’s she has a couple of kids, maybe even takes a year or two out by which point she is desperate to get back to civilisation and adult conversation. Upon return, things seem different – people are treating her differently, not involving her as much, opportunities that come her way are a bit thin on the ground – you catch my drift, right? This starts to affect her confidence. Yet, she doesn’t feel able to speak up for herself. She becomes quite passive. She starts to just “go through the motions” and before long, the rot sets in…… you see where this is going?
Equally, there are many women who don’t have children. I see a very different result with these women, but it is equally dissatisfying and suppressing. They work hard to power on up that corporate ladder, before long banging their head on that glass ceiling. And, in the absence of self-awareness and skill, start to “copy” the behaviour they find themselves surrounded by as they see this as the only way to survive (and I use the word survive deliberately, notice it’s not thrive). I find this painful to observe, “an alpha male female” – it just doesn’t compute. The behaviour becomes aggressive as she jostles for position and spars with her male counterparts in an attempt to hold her own. It’s a lonely place, often coming with a degree of bullying and harassment which she will swallow as “it goes with the territory”. Not to mention a reputation the precedes her for all the wrong reasons. Wrong on so many levels.
Outside of work, the challenge remains, although often dressed in different clothing. I talk to many women who are in resentful relationships. The relationship is often still full of love but the practicalities of being in a relationship often cause havoc, particularly when both parties are at odds communicatively. The resentment often exists due to the woman playing a number of roles – mum, wife, job title, daughter, carer, friend (if she gets time) and very rarely “Violet” (or whatever her name is, the true self is what I’m angling at here). Whilst the man is comfortably playing his role of “Dave”. Now, I’m going to be a bit harsh here but it’s true and it’s important – these women are doing themselves no favours. Pointing the finger and blaming the husband/partner is extremely low accountability and gets you nowhere quite frankly – actually, No, it does get you somewhere, somewhere worse off, backwards. The behaviour I observe is either passive e.g. she retreats, withdraws and says nothing and festers till her blood boils or aggressive e.g. she loses her rag, has an emotional outburst and world war III begins. Neither of which result in a satisfactory outcome.
I think it’s important to point out here that personal relationship scenarios are often more tricky. The reason being that there is a strong emotional attachment here that is extremely difficult to detach from. Equally, at home it’s unconditional whereas the work place tends to carry tangible consequences for behavioural breaches. This certainly affects our choices. This is worth being aware of.
So, onto the answers! How do you move away from the passive and aggressive ends of the spectrum into a more balanced and neutral assertive state? Here’s 5 top tips to set you off in the right direction:
1. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable – when I ask a lot of these women what stops them from having a direct conversation about their unfulfilling situation I often hear the phrase “It’s just too awkward”. I’ve experienced this first-hand so I can share how I overcame this. It was a mindset shift – one that I used a bit of visualisation to apply. In my mind I hand over the uncomfortableness (is that a word?) to the other person which allows me to be comfortable. Once I am comfortable, I find it much easier to talk things through and say what I’m thinking and feeling and the impacts on me.
2. Feedback at a behavioural level – we meet each other on a behavioural level, yet there are so many layers to us as human beings (bit like an onion) and at the core is our identity. We can’t see each others identity or values from the surface and so we base our judgements of someone on the behaviour we observe. However, often when I see and hear feedback conversations they are pitched at someone’s identity. An example “You’re lazy” when someone is always late. By saying they are lazy, I’m attacking their character not the behaviour – the behaviour would be “You have been late 3 times this week” – Make sense? By feeding back on behaviour we remove the personal dig – it’s about your behaviour, not about you as a person and people are able to deal with that in a much more rational and acceptable way making space for change.
3. Say what you want, not what you don’t want – Another common scenario is that women get labelled as “nagging” or “moaning” (both in work and personal relationships). This is often down to the frame of reference of the conversation. By this I mean we talk about what we don’t want people to do e.g. ”Don’t challenge me in front of my senior stakeholders” or “I hate it when you come in drunk at 3am” #justsayin . We are far more influential and credible when we tell people what we want e.g “I’m happy to be challenged, either in private or by asking me a question when we’re in senior company” or “If you’re going to be home after midnight then please sleep in the spare room”. One reason for this is that the brain doesn’t recognise the negative, it only hears the command e.g give a child a cup of juice and say “Don’t spill it” the brain removes the “not” and hears “Do spill it!!” hence why “carry your drink carefully” works much better.
4. Listen first – if you sense a difference of opinion coming on that might result in an argument try this simple technique. Avoid saying “I disagree”. It only riles people and rubs them up the wrong way. Instead, lead the way and role model how you’d like them to behave - listen first. Ask to understand their situation and requirements before stating your own. This then gives you complete permission to state your wants and needs.
5. Compromise it shit! – Seriously…. If you’ve put all the effort in with the above 4 points then an outcome of compromise is pretty poor. You can expect to raise the stakes and provide a win/win outcome for both of you. Work hard to deliver both parties want and needs – if you’re demonstrating the behaviours above that should be much easier than you think.
Try out these top tips and let us know how you get on – we’d love to hear your success stories and help you out with any challenges. Feel free to contact us for a bit of advice via any of our social media channels, we’d love to help!
You can catch us in these places:
Facebook: @Violet and Charlie
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Finally, make sure you call in and say Hello! As we’ll be exhibiting and running a workshop on this very topic at the Mums Enterprise Roadshow in Manchester on June 20th – see you there!!!
Jodie Salt, Co Founder & Director of Violet & Charlie
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