We've all been there--you pen a strongly worded email, confident in your stance, and hit "send." Then you immediately cringe and begin to question yourself. Should you have used softer language? Should you have called instead of emailing? Maybe you should have just kept quiet?
The self-doubt can be crippling. But why do we do it to ourselves? Why are we so fearful of how our tone and language might be interpreted? What is so bad about standing up for ourselves, even if it means ruffling a few feathers along the way?
Unfortunately,this is how our society has been conditioned. You've probably read plenty of articles about women missing out on opportunities in the workplace--because they don't speak up enough. Because they aren't taught to be leaders like men are. But the second we start to chime in, to assert ourselves and establish boundaries, we earn the reputation as the office bitch. While gender stereotypes are slowly improving, these biases are an unfortunate reality for women in the professional world right now. It's the ultimate double-edged sword.
Don't get me wrong... Women have come a long way, and I'm proud to be a part of it. That being said, women still face biases--oftentimes even from their own female colleagues--but what's worse is the judgment we subject ourselves to. That judgment is what causes the immediate self-doubt after clicking "send." It happens probably more than we'd like to admit, but, trust me, it happens. I'd know--I've done it to myself.
There's a fine line between being aggressive and being assertive--and that line is much finer in society for women than it is for men. But that one thought--"Are they going to think I'm a bitch?"--can truly sabotage your career. If you fail to assert yourself because that fear is holding you back, you're doing yourself a major disservice. You're stifling your career and likely missing out on opportunities.
So what's a girl to do? Sit idly by to avoid being labeled an aggressive bitch, or throw caution to the wind and swing her weight around to get what she wants?
There's certainly not a direct or easy answer to this question, but I don't believe the two approaches are mutually exclusive. I'm certainly not suggesting we all start bossing around our colleagues to achieve success. To the contrary--being too aggressive can deplete others' trust in you and cause resentment. However, learning how to take a firm stance when the situation requires it is crucial to excelling and earning respect in the professional world.
According to one study, women who are aggressive, assertive and confident, and are adept at exhibiting each trait in the appropriate situations, receive more promotions than even men. So the key is a strategic approach--not only developing these qualities, which are invaluable in the professional world, but also learning how and when to exhibit each trait.
So the next time you're firing off that firmly worded email, take a moment before you click "send." Monitor your energy... Are you sending from a clean place within yourself, or is it charged with emotion? If you feel an aggressive approach is necessary for the particular situation, go for it. After all, it's all about the energy field it comes from within you.
Taking a strategic approach like this does take a bit more analysis and foresight in how you communicate with others, but the return on investment is well worth it. You'll be able to hit that "send" button confidently without doubting yourself. And hopefully, soon enough, you, too, will be one of the aggressive, assertive, confident women who is getting more promotions than your male counterparts.
As Aristotle once said: "There is only way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
... Dare greatly, and be something.