• Lacy Starling

#94: How are You Assertive without being Aggressive?

*A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to three classes of sales students at the University of Cincinnati, and they had some really great questions. REALLY great questions...and a lot of them. So I thought it would be good to share them, and my answers, with you, gentle reader.*


How do you balance being assertive with people without coming off as aggressive?

First, of course a young woman asked me this question. Literally NEVER has a man of any age asked me this question, so let's think about that for a minute. Maybe more than a minute. What message are we sending to women in the workforce that they need to ask this, but men get to be as assertive as they want, or even aggressive, and it's just....cool. Or expected. Or whatever. Let's work on that, why don't we?


But, the question was asked, so I need to answer it. In order to be assertive and stay in my lady-lane, rather than being viewed as aggressive by the patriarchy (sorry, that just slipped out) I do the following things:

  1. I know my worth. If I'm confident in my role, and in the fact that I'm not only allowed to have expectations, but that it is part of my job, it is easier to remain calm and assertive. When I feel insecure or unsure, I'm much more likely to lash out.

  2. I make sure my expectations are clear. The best way to start an interaction with someone is to clarify expectations. This is a great way to be assertive in the beginning and set the tone of an interaction.

  3. I don't apologize. There's no, "I'm sorry, but" at the beginning of an assertion on my part. That puts you on your back foot, and can breed resentment, which will lead to aggression. (This obviously doesn't apply if I've actually done something for which I need to apologize.)

  4. I give the benefit of the doubt. I don't automatically assume someone has done something just to upset me. Usually, they haven't, and getting angry about it will only make things worse, and I'll tip into aggressive territory.

  5. I take a beat and a breath. If something is really upsetting to me, or someone has failed miserably at something, or someone is being crappy to me, I *try* to take a moment and gather myself, rather than going with my first, knee-jerk reaction.

And at the end of the day, I calmly ask for what I want and expect and then I sit back. I'm not a yeller or a table-banger, but there will always be people who view anyone who asserts themselves as aggressive. That's on them, not me.

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