How can women be assertive?

Women have the potential to be great communicators; however their sensitivity can sometimes overshadow their objectivity and in the process they lose their assertiveness. Human Resources specialist Lizanne de Jong teaches women how to address work colleagues with confidence.

Lizanne starts by comparing male and female communication and points out some interesting distinctions. She then goes on to discuss how women can be assertive without being seen as aggressive and what women need to guard against when communicating with colleagues in the workplace.

There are significant differences in the way that males and females communicate. The first difference is seated in our cultural stories. In certain cultures, where males dominate, women are submissive and don’t have a voice. The learned pattern is difficult to break when they enter the working world, and they tend to struggle with assertiveness. In our socialisation, women are more collaborative and friendly where men are more competitive and results driven.

The second difference is seated in balancing female and male energy. We all have female and male energy, but if there is too much female energy it creates emotional communication, and a struggle between sympathy and being objective. A good balance between male and female energy leads to assertive communication with enough empathy when appropriate.

The third difference is not male or female oriented, but is nested in your own personality type. There are women who tend to make subjective decisions and have difficulty to act assertively or express their needs in an appropriate fashion. They tend to please others, but do not take care of their own needs.

According to Daniel Goleman, an internationally known psychologist and author, neuropsychology shows that women have a better ability at emotional empathy where men have a better ability at problem solving. This does not mean that men cannot demonstrate emotional empathy or women are not good at systems thinking, but there are differences. The difference in blood-flow patterns, brain chemistry and certain brain structures impact all of our interactions. The greater blood flow between the spatial-mechanical centres of the male brain and the greater blood flow between the verbal-emotive centres of the female brain combined with higher levels of the hormone oxytocin in women may explain the differences in how relationships are formed. We bond through conversations as women, where men bond through activities, team sport or work activities.

The differences in our brains and socialisation impacts every facet of our work together, including:

Relationship development
Interpretation of conversation
Conduct of and behaviour during meetings
Conduct of negotiations
Interpretation of performance feedback and
Handling of stress and conflict.

The challenge for women is in adapting their style to the dominant business structure – the hierarchy – and the primary expectation of business, results. The style that men use is overt and direct and little is hidden. Women prefer a covert or influential style and often reverts back to childhood where girls ‘play nice’. Her more collaborative and accommodating style can appear to be a lack of confidence, indecisiveness and unwillingness to take the lead. Women struggle at times to find the balance, and the biggest mistake she can make is to become like a man. She often overplays the ‘toughness’ and can be criticised as being insensitive or harsh, especially by other women.

Women needs to embrace their female and male energy and learn how to be assertive. She needs to be aware of how she is defined by her socialisation and own internal processes and communicate her needs in an assertive way. She needs to grow confident in her own ability to make decisions and use collaboration but also the incisiveness of getting to a decision and trusting her judgement. What women tend to forget is that they can learn from other women, but also from successful men. Men have been in charge for a long time, and can act as good mentors.

Women tend to communicate to bond or share whereas men communicate to disseminate information or for problem solving. Women’s communication is Omni-directional across the mesh while men tend to communicate generally up and down the hierarchy. Women see a problem and fix the problem while men will always involve key stakeholders.
Women need to guard against the tendency to buy into the emotions surrounding bonding with workers, making it difficult dealing with disciplinary matters, or personal decisions such as promotions or layoffs. She needs to learn how to assert herself and deal with conflict in a more objective unemotional way. Women also needs to know their rights and how to press for those rights to be respected by others.

Women will benefit if they express their compassion while allowing logic to dominate their decision making. The biggest advantage is when women become aware of their own personality and how it plays out in her communication style, learn to be assertive in her communication and know how her socialisation helped to establish non-assertive patterns of communication.

Women need to become aware of their body language and show confidence in how they project themselves. Their tone of voice, eye contact and the way they project confidence are just as important as the words they use.

The Assertive Communication Skills for Women is a course that deepens the understanding of using assertiveness in the workplace and addresses the underlying reasons of why women are not assertive. They go away with practical scripts and enough practises to use their new assertive skills in the workplace.

For more insights join the Assertive Communication Skills for Women course held by Alusani Skills & Training Network®. For more information call 011 447 7470, visit Alusani Skills & Training Network or email faith@alusani.co.za.