manager woman is leading the meeting

Assertive vs Aggressive: 5 Tips for Women Walking the Tightrope

The one question that I get asked the most as a women’s leadership coach is how to walk the tightrope and find balance between being aggressive and assertive in the workplace. This also happens to be one of the main themes in my book, Leading Gracefully, which presents a whole new roadmap on how women can achieve that sometimes elusive balance.

hardcover of book leading gracefully

One of the biggest challenges women face is something called the “double bind” which are the confusing messages they get about how to behave in a work environment. Women are told they need to be assertive, but not too much, otherwise they might be seen as a “bitch” or “difficult to work with” or an “Ice Queen.” However, if they are too accommodating, then they might get labeled as the “Nice girl.” Each of these polarities make up two ends of the Leadership Tightrope and both sides of this spectrum have pitfalls and force women to choose between being respected versus being liked, which ends up being a zero sum game.

The Nice Girl vs The Ice Queen

What happens when you get labeled as the nice girl? Sure, people may like you because they know you’ll be responsible, take care of all the office housework and not mess up their Starbucks order, but when it comes time to assign challenging projects or take on more responsibility, you’re most likely not going to be top of mind for people. On the flip side, when we’re on the other end of the Tightrope, people may not necessarily like working for you or with you because you might come off as cold and unemotional. Sure you are respected, but what happens when there’s a fire? Will you hear about it? Most likely not, because people are most likely intimidated by you and could be afraid of an aggressive reaction. There are trade offs on either side of this Leadership Tightrope and they are both bad for women’s advancement. And this is one of the main reasons we continue to see a leadership gap in organizations today because it seems as if women are damned either way, so they either check out, opt out of their careers, or worse yet, burn out from having to constantly manage their image and perception.

assertive ice queen at office

So it’s really easy to give up and say, “well there’s not really much I can do and men need to change the way they stereotype women.” My answer to that is – yes and no. Do men need to check their gender bias at the door? Absolutely? Do organizations need to make sure men have the tools to do so? Yes. However, women can also work on their effectiveness by finding balance between being the Ice Queen or the Nice Girl through practicing Feminine Leadership. When practicing feminine leadership, women are able to take back control of their impact through building self-awareness and leaning into the strengths they bring to the table. 

Defining Assertiveness

Let me start my defining assertiveness. Being assertive means being able to clearly and confidently communicate your ideas, influence others, and contribute fully. It means being direct, being able to make decisions and having the courage to speak up when you don’t agree or have a strong opinion about something. Now the way we do this can be the difference between being assertive and being too aggressive. The tone of voice we use as well as our body language and facial expressions make up about 80% of what people perceive of us. To be able to be assertive means our body language is aligned with our thoughts and we are able to articulate them with confidence and ease. This means we feel calm and centered in our body. It means that our body language is open and receptive. We are able to listen deeply and acknowledge others. We allow others to express their opinions and give others credit for their input.

boss woman at workplace

How does this differ from being aggressive? When we are aggressive, we tend to leave our emotions at the door. There isn’t much empathy or kindness in the way we speak, we might be rude or indifferent and our body language might be more closed rather than open and receptive. We might roll our eyes or cross our arms for example. We might not listen well to others or rudely interrupt. We might be demanding and not really give people the credit they deserve. Although you are direct and vocal, the tone of voice you use and the energy behind it is very different. It is much more controlling and dominating and makes people feel intimidated, afraid and uncomfortable.

Here are five steps you can take to be more assertive and less aggressive:

1. What is my current impact?

Self-awareness is the key to personal and professional development, so we start there. Most of the time, we don’t have any clue about how we are showing up and how others perceive us. Depending on your level, you may or may not be getting feedback about your performance or leadership style. So it’s imperative that you develop self-awareness and ask yourself, what is the impact I am having on the people on my team, on my peers, direct reports, or others I interact with on a daily basis. Begin noticing how people react to you and whether you are creating a healthy or toxic environment around you through your actions and behavior. Are you a team player and get along well with the majority of your team or do you complain and act a victim? Are you able to communicate your ideas well or are you more emotional and volatile? How do you handle stress? Begin noticing your impact and be honest with yourself. If you don’t like what you see, that’s okay. You can’t change what you don’t see, so this is the first step in choosing behaviors that bring you to the desired impact you want to have.

be self-aware

2. What is my desired impact?

Once you’ve given yourself an honest assessment (or taken a 360 Leadership Assessment), you can ask yourself – What is the desired impact I want to have? Do you want to be more collaborative with others? Do you want to build more trust with your peers? Do you want to improve a relationship with someone you work with? Do you want to be a more assertive and less aggressive woman? Write down the types of impact you want to have on the various groups of people you work with (peers, direct reports, manager, customers etc). This will give you a goal or objective to work towards and you can then work backwards to figure out what qualities you need to develop in order to get to your desired impact.

3. Practice Centering

At the center of the Feminine Leadership model is the quality of Centering. If you’re wondering what that is, think about how you feel after a yoga or meditation class. You probably feel more grounded, present, calm and relaxed. That is what we mean by Centering. Most of the time we are in some kind of stress response during the work day. We have to run from one meeting to the next, constantly put out fires and handle many demands. All of these put stress on the body which significantly reduces our ability to think clearly. When we are in a stress response we might respond more emotionally or aggressively. However, we can quickly get out of that stress response by practicing a Centering exercise (there’s a great one I recommend in my book), or you can find an easy practice that you enjoy like deep breathing exercises or going for a quick walk around the block or listening to relaxing music. Find a practice that works for you and do that before you respond to an email, resolve a conflict or walk into an important meeting or presentation. 

4. Choose a leadership capacity(s) to develop.

Once you’ve Centered, you can then ask yourself – what leadership quality do I need to use in this given situation so I can have my desired impact? You can then refer to the Feminine Leadership Model to ask yourself what qualities will help you get to your desired impact. If you tend to be more aggressive in your leadership style, perhaps you need to practice more empathy and humility in order to achieve your desired impact. If you tend to be more shy and withdrawn, then perhaps you need to be more direct and become assertive in how you communicate your ideas and opinions. Pick one or two leadership qualities from the model that you think will help you balance out your impact and commit to working on those for the next few months. Use the specific exercises outlined in my book to help you do so or book coaching sessions with me directly if you want further support.

woman in balance and calm mood

5. Ask for feedback.

A great way to know whether you’re on the right track is to tell people you work with that you are working on a specific leadership quality. This will help you stay accountable and get feedback on your progress. Not only will you be acting as a role model for self-development, but you’ll also be getting valuable feedback on the changes you’re trying to implement in your leadership style. This insight can be pivotal to your success when you’re working on behavior change because it gives you the positive reinforcement to keep going and also helps you gauge if you’re on track to achieve your desired impact.

one to one meeting at office

You Are Always at Choice

One of the most valuable things you can discover is that you are always at choice at how you show up, whether you lead others or just lead yourself. Whether you’re a manager, an entrepreneur or a mom, you can practice these leadership skills to better manage yourself and others with more ease, grace and effectiveness. Sometimes all it takes is the willingness to look at ourselves honestly in the mirror and ask ourselves some tough questions. But in the end, doing the work to improve your effectiveness can mean the difference between staying stagnant in your career or moving upwards, making more money, and being more successful in your endeavors. For women to move up the ladder and close the gender gap, we must learn how to assertively and confidently communicate, offer our opinions, and contribute our gifts fully. I hope these steps will help you not only be liked but also respected by the people you work with and relate to.

feminine leadership

Fit for Joy Podcast with Valerie Teles

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with the lovely Valerie Teles, host of the Fit for Joy Podcast. We had a wonderful chat about how women can lean into their natural, feminine strengths to find balance as leaders.  She was very curious about my own journey and how I embarked on my own self-discovery through practicing vulnerability, building self-confidence, and reclaiming my authentic Self. We spoke about the meaning of life, what it means to be strong, how we define Love, and a vision for a new world before we dove into a rich discussion about themes from Leading Gracefully: A Woman’s Guide to Confident, Authentic and Effective Leadership.

It’s not every day I get asked these types of questions because I’m typically talking to groups of women in corporate settings. I don’t usually get asked about my personal beliefs about Life, Love and God but I thought it was such a beautiful way to ground the conversation. One of the things people may not know about me is that I have a deeply spiritual side (not religious, more woo woo), which I tend to hide because it’s not “done” in business. But what I’m feeling more and more these days is that not only are these themes important to me and in my personal evolution but they are themes that are coming up a lot for many people. I am grateful for Valerie in creating the space for me to explore these questions and set them in the context of how women can more fully access feminine strengths to lead in their careers and personal lives.

Here’s some highlights from our interview:

-The types of common challenges women face in male-dominated industries like tech

-The Feminine Leadership Model and how to apply it in your everyday leadership (in life and your career!)

-The importance of authenticity and vulnerability as a means to effective leadership

-Some real life examples from my personal leadership journey!

You can listen to the full interview here: https://fitforjoy.org/guests1/2020/7/5/monique-svazlian-tallon

 

 

7 Steps to Gracefully Transition into a New Career Path

With the future unknown and millions out of work, it is more important than ever to reevaluate our careers and think about how we’re going to support ourselves if we’ve been laid off. Instead of going into fear and becoming immobilized with the not knowing, I’m encouraging people to use this as an opportunity to turn inward and reflect on next steps to begin laying the groundwork if it feels time to reinvent your career.

I’ve laid out a simple step-by-step process to guide yourself easily and more gracefully into a new career path based on my personal experience changing careers from working in the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur. Click here to read the full article on Highest Path.

strong confident woman

4 Practical Ways to Build More Self-Confidence for Women in Leadership – Part II

 

Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Christopher Robin

In my last post, we looked at the definition of self-confidence and why it’s so important for women looking to move forward in their careers. If you need more evidence of why confidence is imperative for women, we know that a lack of confidence in millennials can prevent them from  entering the workforce. And since they are now the biggest segment of the workforce, it should be in everyone’s interest to ensure these issues are addressed in companies through women’s leadership training through offering leadership development, mentoring and coaching opportunities for up-and-coming female leaders.

In this post, we’ll introduce four practical ways you can begin working on how to gain confidence, build inner strength and be free of that pesky voice that tells you you’re never good enough!

1. Write down the words of your Inner Bully

Now it’s also important to know the primary job of our Inner Bully. The job of our Inner Bully is to keep us safe. It wants to protect us by reminding us of our past failures and limitations so we won’t repeat the same actions that have caused us pain and humiliation in the past. But although it thinks it’s keeping us safe, it’s unaware of the damage it’s doing in the process, especially to our self-confidence. It’s like the operating system on a computer – it runs in the background so you can’t see it but it runs the entire thing.

 

woman working on herself

 

So how do we control the Inner Bully? We have to update our operating system.

The first step is to identify the voice of our Inner Bully. We are going to bring the Inner Bully into our conscious awareness so we can begin reshaping our beliefs into more positive ones. 

Take a moment now to think about your Inner Bully – what does it say to you? What are the words it uses? What is the dialogue? What are those limiting beliefs? 

Pick the main one, the one that is usually right there, and jot it down in your journal.   

2. Get in touch with your Inner Cheerleader

Now that we have identified the words of our Inner Bully, the next step is to replace those words with the words of our Inner Cheerleader.

Our Inner Cheerleader is the part of us that knows that we are good enough, we are smart enough, capable enough. It is the part of ourselves that is confident. Think about your best friends. Every time you are sad or not feeling particularly confident, you will probably call a close friend or family member and they will remind you of how wonderful you are. And you would do the same in return. What we have to learn to do is to do that same thing for ourselves especially when we notice the Inner Bully becoming loud.

So we are going to get in touch with our Inner Cheerleader as the second step to learning how to boost self-confidence. This exercise is a favorite with women who attend my workshops and keynotes because it helps them immediately connect to their power and authenticity.

To do that, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes for a moment. Bring to mind a peak experience from your past – a moment or a time in your life where you accomplished something big where you felt like you were at the top of the mountain. Really visualize that moment in time and bring it into your mind’s eye.

 

 

Think about the qualities you showed up with to reach that moment. Who were you being? What did it take to get there? Think about the qualities that got you there, and who you had to be to get there. What words come to mind?

 Open your eyes and write down the words that came to mind. What qualities did you exhibit to reach that moment? Write those down in your journal. Then turn those words into phrases or sentences. These phrases will begin to make up the dialogue of your Inner Cheerleader.

 3. Replace the Inner Bully with the Inner Cheerleader

Every time you notice your Inner Bully voice, you’re going to replace it with the words of your Inner Cheerleader from Step #2. I recommend starting out by first:

  • Keep a tally of every time you hear your Inner Bully getting loud.
  • Notice how many times a day it speaks to you.
  • In what situations or contexts does it tend to come up?
  • Do this for at least one week.

woman keeping the balance

 

In the second week, begin replacing the words of your Inner Bully with phrases you came up with from your Inner Cheerleader. You’re going to use this confidence building activity by practicing self-compassion and kindness with yourself. You’re going to talk to yourself like you talk to your best friend and it’s going to help you remember how amazing you truly are.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

As you continue to replace the words of your Inner Bully with the words of your Inner Cheerleader you’ll begin to notice the volume of your Inner Bully go down and you’ll be able to turn up the volume of your Inner Cheerleader. Over time the voice of your Inner Cheerleader will become a part of your inner Operating System. But in order for this to become truly a habit, you will need to practice to get good at noticing each time your Inner Bully rears its ugly head!

If you want further exercises to help you practice, check out the additional exercises I’ve developed featured in my book Leading Gracefully.Leading gracefully

With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world. Dalai Lama

 

What Results Can You Expect?

I usually recommend at least three to six months to begin noting a shift in your inner dialogue. Be patient and realize that it’s taken you a lifetime to develop an Inner Bully, so it will take some time to undo that programming. But if you approach these exercises with the same dedication and discipline required to lose weight, learn a new language, or develop any habit, you’ll begin to see changes over time. The goal is to eventually turn down the volume on your Inner Bully and turn up the volume on feeling more self-confident, have more self-esteem, and more inner trust.

 

happy woman walking

 

As you complete these exercises:

  1. What do you notice?
  2. Does your Inner Bully become less loud?
  3. Are you feeling more confident?

Leave your comments in the feed below and share how these tools worked for you!

Your Working Life Podcast Interview

I had the pleasure of speaking with Caroline Dowd-Higgins on her Your Working Life podcast recently. We spoke about my book, Leading Gracefully and how both women AND men can benefit from embodying “feminine qualities” of leadership, like vulnerability and empathy, and how these qualities are those that people are searching for in their leaders today.

Take a few minutes to enjoy our lively conversation about how to Lead Gracefully.