Bossed Up recently tapped me to serve as a trainer at their life-changing Bossed Up Bootcamp in DC. (Seriously life-changing! I’ve met so many people over the past 5 years since Bossed Up has been around who’ve told me how useful it was in making a career pivot.)
I spent hours preparing for my session on assertive communication, wanting to make sure that the module spoke to each of the women I knew would be in attendance. Little did I know that being with them taught me just as much! After all, they say that we do some of our best learning by teaching others.
Here’s what I took away from training on Assertive Communication:
1. I’m a recovering pushover – and that’s OK
As a woman – and a woman of color at that – many of the messages I got growing up about how to be successful in the workplace had to do with playing small and being seen and not heard. So, that’s what I unconsciously brought into my first jobs after college. Naturally conflict-averse, I even remember telling friends in my 20’s that I was the “Great Compromiser,” hoping to avoid anything that felt like conflict. I thought it was more important for people to like me and be happy than to deal with unpleasantries or be perceived as aggressive.
2. Standing up for yourself is more important than making others happy
When I transitioned into education, the stakes felt higher because I was responsible for kids’ lives. I quickly learned that not standing up for myself wasn’t actually good for the kids whose lives I wanted to impact – and it did nothing for my ability to sleep at night. I realized I valued things like authenticity, truthfulness, and standing up for what I believe in way more than I cared about making everyone around me happy all the time.
3. Assertive communication is like a muscle
I realized that there was an art to having my needs, wants, and desires addressed that could also leave space for others to feel respected, honored, and valued. It’s a muscle we all have to keep using or it can start to atrophy. I’ve stretched that muscle over and over again during the 4 years that I’ve been a solopreneur! It has made all the difference in whether or not I get paid on time, how timely prospective clients respond to proposals I submit, how I prioritize my time in working with clients, and with which clients I decide to work. It’s even helped me stand up to clients when I’ve seen them exhibiting unconscious bias or blatant racism in their business practices.
4. You will more often be respected when you assert truth
There are many times when I wish I didn’t have to turn my assertiveness on – when I wish others would just behave considerately, empathetically, and respectfully of my wants and needs. But I also know that there is no one who can look out for me 100% of the time but me. So, when I have the opportunity to speak truth to power, confidently and directly stand for what I need, want or believe in, the response from others is more often than not positive, supportive and respected.
It took me years in the workplace to realize that balanced assertiveness is the way to go. Here’s to all the women coming up behind me in the workplace perfecting that balance even earlier!
Alicia Robinson, founder of EdPlus Consulting, works at the intersection of social justice and education. She is passionate about connecting people with opportunities to create equitable education for every student, promoting empathy across difference, and empowering social justice warriors to succeed.