Assert Yourself

As a woman in STEM it’s important to learn to be assertive when appropriate. It will help you build confidence, credibility, and respect for your expertise. It is also an effective tool to deal with bullies and co-worker conflict. Being able to stand up for yourself in a way that is calm, respectful, and positive helps you assert your rights while respecting the rights of others. It creates an equal balance of power.

The benefits of assertiveness have been proven and documented. Mastering assertiveness will benefit you by providing:

  • Greater self-confidence
  • Higher self-esteem / self-respect
  • A more positive self-image
  • An increased likelihood of finding positive solutions
  • More effective communication skills
  • Reduced likelihood of being exploited or coerced
  • An enhanced ability to control stress

The key to becoming assertive is creating a focus on your rights and needs while respecting the rights and needs of others. The concept is that it’s possible for both sides of an issue have concerns and perspectives that have value. It can be so empowering to believe you have a right to be respected and knowing that you can communicate that right effectively.

One downside to being an assertive woman is that people may find you less likeable. This is the result of a leadership likeability double bind for women. Assertiveness is a key characteristic of leaders, yet it is seen as a masculine trait, not a feminine one. Men who are assertive are likeable while assertive women are less likeable. Cultural norms play into this and can prevent women from utilizing assertive communication techniques. Women are expected to be nurturing, kind, and caring which can feel contradictory to being assertive.

Don’t fall for this trap, by being assertive you are respecting the rights of others, paying attention to their concerns while standing strong on your own rights. This is a fantastic tool to help build bridges while elevating individuals and teams. Assertiveness communicates respect for others. It requires actively listening. Assertive people are calm, cool, and collected during times of stress. When you step back and look at these items it’s easy to see that being assertive an effective approach to work situations.

One of the challenges with being assertive is to not slip over into being aggressive. Aggressive people are focused on being right, not making sure it’s a win-win situation. They often are bullies and are focused on their rights at the expense of other’s rights. To avoid sliding over the line, make sure you stay curious about the situation and what is going on for others. Asking questions and actively listening will help you be empathetic and calm which are hallmarks of assertiveness.

To make it all work for you here are 5 tips:

  1. Be Confident: Know that you have a right to speak up. When in a conversation or a meeting everyone has the right to share their ideas. Be confident in your right.
  2. Speak Calmly: Once you are confident in your right to speak up it’s easier to speak calmly about the topic. You can be enthusiastic or passionate about your topic, however, avoid speaking in anger as that slides into the perception of aggressive behavior.
  3. Listen Carefully: Avoid listening only for a break so you can speak up. Make sure you are paying attention to what others are saying and the emotion behind their words.
  4. Be Empathetic: As you listen to the other person’s words and emotions you will develop a better understanding of where they are coming from. You don’t have to agree with everything they say to hear their point.
  5. Avoid Judging: Skip using phrases like “you’re wrong” or “why did you” as they tell the other person you are better than them. Instead use phrases like “I believe this is correct” or “I would have done”. These share your perspective without cancelling out theirs.

When you are working on becoming assertive remember three key things:

  • You don’t have to put yourself down to lift others up – everyone has the right to be heard
  • You can make others feel important without making yourself unimportant - everyone is important
  • Stop focusing on your strengths and their weaknesses – everyone has talents to share



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