Speaking up at the office without fear

Being assertive in business is a good thing, it helps with promotions and pay but what it's not is being aggressive and here's why

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Many women have been there, in the workplace, feeling the need to speak up but hesitating for fear of being labelled “aggressive”.

But reality check: speaking up, voicing your opinion or standing up for yourself isn’t aggressive – it’s the way in which it’s done that can be.

Done properly, you’ll be seen as assertive.

The term aggressive carries negativity. It’s associated with anger and hostility, it quite rightly isn’t appropriate for the workplace and is not something you’d want to be known for. But assertive relates to confidence and positivity.

An assertive person is self-assured and diplomatic. They state their opinions directly, being respectful and acknowledging the input of others, even if they don’t agree with them.

They remain calm and they listen. They stand up for themselves and can be ambitious, but not at the expense of others. An aggressive person is the opposite.

They demand attention and action, force their views and ignore or attack the opinions of others. They expect to have their way, no matter who they hurt.

The assertive person is a team-player, whereas the aggressor doesn’t know what that means.

So how can you ensure you’re seen as assertive rather than aggressive?

When speaking

Keep the tone and volume of your voice calm and at conversation level. When you’re assertive you’re in control of yourself and your emotions – yelling sees you lose that control.

Interacting with others

Listen and don’t interrupt. Interaction is a two-way street, don’t talk at someone, talk to them. Acknowledge their ideas and give credit where it’s due.

If you disagree, do so respectfully and explain why. Value others and their contribution no less than you value yourself.

When negotiating

Aim for a win-win outcome. Assertive people have goals and aspirations, but don’t want to achieve them at the expense of others.

State your case and stick to the facts. Do not speak negatively of others in an attempt to shine brighter yourself.

Men, by design, often have more of a physical presence, with a deeper, possibly louder voice.

Women can be seen as aggressive if they try to match the behaviour and manner of male colleagues – sometime in the belief that it’s required in order to be taken seriously – simply because it doesn’t appear natural.

Changes to usual body language and tone of voice, to emulate others, can come across as an attempt to intimidate or an indication of anger, even if that’s not the intention.

So just be yourself, have confidence in your abilities whilst being respectful of others, and you’ll be on the right track.

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