3 Ways Women can Assertively Communicate in the WorkplaceApr 07, 2022
Every woman in business has had the experience of being spoken over at a meeting. Or delivering an idea to moderate reaction, only for someone else to repeat it later on to a resounding yes.
Communicating confidently and effectively in the workplace can be a challenge for many women. This struggle can have serious consequences for women; the inability to actively contribute to meetings and drive the strategic agenda of the business, means they are far less likely to reach leadership positions.
Here are 3 simple communication behaviors you can change today, to come across as confident and assertive in the workplace.
1 - Limit Devaluing Language
Devaluing language is where you downplay your abilities, achievements, and ideas - without reason. Women are often far more likely to advocate for others in the workplace than they are to talk positively about themselves, unlike their male counterparts.
Some common examples of common devaluing language are; "I guess I just wanted to point out", ‘I just wanted to make you aware of", and of course starting with the word "sorry".
The issue with devaluing language is that it subconsciously portrays a lack of self-confidence, as well as portrays your idea as an interruption, rather than a valuable contribution.
An easy way to remedy this is to be aware of the language you use and make simple changes. Remove ‘just’ and ‘sorry’, and replace ‘I think with ‘I know, ‘I believe’ or even ‘I am confident that. Be direct, clear, and sure of your own opinions and ideas.
2 - Watch out for Submissive Body Language
Good assertive communication isn’t just about verbal language. Your body language can just as easily project a lack of confidence, even if you don’t realize it. This can be difficult to manage and change, as many women are taught to ‘take up less space than men, a feeling that can be exasperated when in a workplace dominated by men. Remember; actions speak louder than words, so utilize your body language to communicate confidence.
A common example of submissive body language is crossing your arms and legs when speaking to your peers or managers or presenting the information. This behavior reduces your physical presence and comes across as apologetic as if to say you believe you shouldn’t be there. Instead, practice standing proudly in your space with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Another common example is holding your hands in the ‘fig-leaf’ position - down, or in the lap, and clasped. This gives off a timid and unsure presence, especially if on the receiving end of questions. Instead, become more comfortable using your hands for gesturing when speaking, or place them in a neutral position down by our sides or on the table.
3 - Avoid Collective Language when Speaking About Yourself
While collaboration in the workplace is a great tool that women should lean into for success. Using collaborative language to refer to individual and personal achievement can be detrimental to career progression.
Reluctance to take ownership of your praise-worthy work, only means that you will not receive the praise, recognition, and credit that you deserve. For many women, owning their success - particularly in public - can feel uncomfortable and even unnatural, as the ‘right’ thing to do should be to stay quiet and humble. Challenging this behavior, however, means you are far more likely to be remembered by management when leadership and responsibility opportunities arise.
Making this change is easier than it sounds. You don’t need to send a staff-wide email detailing exactly what you did, rather focus on your language when describing the project of achievement. Say ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ or ‘the team’. Subtle changes like this aren’t forceful, but let people know that you were responsible for the success.
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