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.

covid19: work from home

Covid19: 10 Tips for Staying Productive and Mentally Healthy While You’re Working From Home

By now all of us have been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our lives have temporarily changed, however drastically, in order to collectively fight against this dangerous epidemic. This is requiring all of us to change our behaviors, make tough decisions and think about alternative ways to stay productive. It’s also requiring us to step into self-leadership to be able to keep ourselves safe and at the same time make sure we are helping our friends, family and co-workers handle this challenging time with more grace and ease.

In order to do that, I’ve created a quick check-list to help you care for your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being and stay productive while staying and working from home.

1. Create a separate workspace

Many of us are having to share our living space with multiple family members during this period of self-quarantine. If you’re like me, having your own space and privacy is super important to your sanity. While having your own space may not be entirely possible, you can carve out a specific space in your home that is dedicated to you. You can use this as your workspace if you are working from home or an area where you can go to reflect, meditate or chill out. Let your family members know it’s important for your well-being and productivity to have this clearly defined space and request that they respect the area by keeping it clean.

work from home working space

 

2. Create a Weekly & Daily Plan (and stick to it!)

For many people, working from home for an extended period of time is a new experience and it can be daunting to get into a routine and not fall into the trap of watching Netflix for hours on end. Add in having to care for children, homeschool, cook and clean and it might feel like you are working two full time jobs (which most working mom’s have been feeling for decades!). It’s important to get into a regular routine and have a weekly and daily calendar for yourself and for your household chores, including your children’s school schedule. On a Sunday afternoon, map out your plan for the week and then block out chunks of time on your calendar for all the various tasks you need to get through each day. Don’t forget to schedule time for exercise, meditation and fun!weekly planning

 

3. Utilize Technology and Discover New Apps

There are virtually endless technological solutions to keep us connected, productive and happy! Here are some of my recent favorites that are helping me stay on track:

Zoom: Online Conferencing technology to help you conduct meetings, webinars, classes or a virtual happy hour with your friends!

Calendly: Schedule virtual meetings, phone dates, or other appointments easily. You can block out dates/times with your availability and send out links for others to automatically schedule a meeting with you. 

Krisp: A new noise-cancelling technology that blocks out background noise while you’re on a conference call.

Happify: An app to help you reduce stress or negative thoughts and build skills for a healthy life with fun activities and games.

Insight Timer: An app where you can learn how to meditate, cope with anxiety, manage stress and improve your sleep

 

4. Discover & Learn New Skills

If you’ve been thinking about learning a new skill, this is a great time to take advantage of having some down time to dedicate to self-improvement. There are endless resources and distance learning courses available to develop virtually any new skill, many which are free! If you’re into professional development, LinkedIn Learning has a great repository of online classes you can take to improve your communication skills, learn how to work remotely or brush up that resume. If you’re into personal development or interested in spiritual development, MindValley offers great classes on meditation, breathwork, and similar topics. My recent fave is the MasterClass series that offers online classes with celebrities where you can learn how to cook with the world’s most famous chef, Massimo Botturo or take an acting class by Helen Mirren. If you’re interested in developing more self-confidence, check out my new Beat the Bully Course I recently released to help you build the confidence you need to reach your goals!

new skills while covid19

 

5. Make Money Online

If you’ve been laid off you’re or worried about getting laid off due to the coronavirus epidemic, fear not! You probably have a skill that you can transfer online by teaching others through platforms like UpWork and Fiverr that connect freelance workers with potential employers. Now more than ever, companies will be hiring remote customer service workers and industries such as technology that already see a wide gap in skilled IT professionals are going to search for new talent. If you don’t have the skills necessary, then use this time to gain the knowledge to make yourself relevant in the future job market. Or think about developing an online course that you can sell on Udemy or elsewhere. Don’t let fear immobilize you – make a plan on how to adapt to the changing job market (which was going to happen with or without this pandemic according to recent studies). 

 

6. Prioritize Self-Care

These are stressful times calling us to step up and prioritize self-care. This crisis is forcing us to slow down, look within, and really re-examine whether being stuck in the rat race has been serving us. While it may be stressful to have to homeschool your kids, isn’t it great that you can spend some quality time with your kids and take more interest in their development? Practicing gratitude is one of the best ways we can keep a positive mental attitude and see the bright side of where we currently find ourselves. Make sure you are scheduling time to move your body, exercise and practice yoga and meditation – remember it’s about mind-body-spirit balance! I myself have been enjoying PopSugar’s Latin Dance workouts in my living room which I find is the best home workout (and the great part is nobody can see how bad my moves are!)

practice self-care

 

7. Avoid Feeling Isolated

During this time of imposed quarantine, it’s easy to feel isolated especially if you live alone. So it’s more important than ever to find ways to connect that are healthy for you. Limit your daily dose of news and social media to keep your stress levels down. Opt instead to read a good book, do some journaling, or set up a virtual happy hour with your friends! Share your gifts with the world whether that’s reading a poem you’ve written, giving a private concert or doing a nine hour DJ set like D-Nice has been doing from his living room which even broke the internet and went viral! Reach out to friends you haven’t spoken to for a long time, coordinate a virtual lunch hour with your teammates or participate in one of the many online webinars and events taking place.

 

8. Practice Leading Gracefully

Now is the time to practice selflessness and to give back by helping others. If you have an idea you think will help, make a plan, ask for help and see it through. Find ways to volunteer (safely) by delivering food to an elderly neighbor, share your provisions if you a stocked pantry, or start a fundraising campaign to help your community. Fight for the rights of the vulnerable and realize that if you are in a position of privilege, you have an obligation to help those not as fortunate as you. It is not time to blame, point fingers or give into feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. You are always at choice as to how to react in any given situation and you can choose leading with kindness and empathy over selfishness at any moment.

 

hardcover of book leading gracefully

 

9. Practice Art Therapy

Art therapy is a well-known technique to help soothe the nerves, work through emotions and express

yourself creatively. If you’re like me and have no idea where to start, watch a free Intro to Art Therapy video on Youtube that can guide you through the steps. No supplies? No problem – all you need is some paper and a pencil. You can also ask your kids to share their art supplies with you. Better yet, why not co-create a painting with your children?! Find fun ways to tap into your creative side and if painting isn’t your thing, try a new recipe, write a poem, or do some outdoor karaoke (it seems to be helping the Italians!).art therapy work from home

 

10. Remind Yourself – This Too Shall Pass

It’s easy to give into the fear and anxiety of our current situation and it does require us to all stay vigilant, be responsible and care for the safety of ourselves and others. However, it’s important to remind ourselves that even this challenging time is temporary and we will get through it. Places like China that were hardest hit are now slowly going back to normal life. If we all do our part (like staying indoors!) then we will get out of this situation sooner than later. As the great spiritual teacher the Dalai Lama has said, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source for strength. No matter what difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s the real disaster.”

 

Hopefully these tips allow you to make the best of the current situation that we all find ourselves in. No matter how long we have to stay in quarantine, we can all use this time to build healthier habits for ourselves and our families that can help us far after we’ve combatted this pandemic. Have some other ideas on how to increase productivity or your well-being during these trying times? Feel free to share them in the comments below!