How Betty Friedan Made Being Assertive (Not Aggressive) OK

It hardly seems possible that 57 years have passed since the publication of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book “The Feminine Mystique” in February, 1963.img-0

She made it OK for women to be more assertive in the workplace at a time when companies still ran separate employment ads for women and men. Sure, how things have changed – but maybe not so much as we think.

Aggressive vs. Assertive

Many women – and let’s not leave out men – have issues to this day with being assertive in business. In male dominated industries assertive women are still seen as being “pushy,” while men who assert themselves are viewed as having leadership qualities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you want to get ahead in business you need to make a compelling presentation of your ideas. But there is a difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

As the highly regarded Mayo Clinic observes, “Being assertive means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others.” Learning how to be assertive helps to reduce stress. No one wants to feel like a passive victim whose opinions are disregarded.

On the other hand, says the Clinic “If your style is aggressive, you may come across as a bully who disregards the needs, feelings and opinions of others. You may appear self-righteous or superior. Very aggressive people humiliate and intimidate others, and may even be physically threatening.”

Does that sound like some people you’ve worked with – and for? People admire assertiveness. They detest aggressiveness.

Being Assertive

Even in “Cinderella,” the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical in revival on Broadway, the role of the fairy princess was updated. She became empowered to stand up for herself.  If she can, so can you.

assertive_woman2Being assertive means not using the dreaded words, “I think….” You don’t think, you know what you want. If you have difficulty being assertive, practice in non-business situations. The next time you are in a restaurant and your entrée is too salty, why not speak up and send it back.

If something goes wrong, how do you handle it? Possibly you’ve been in a situation where you had to make an important presentation to a group of senior managers in your company. There was a bully in the room who kept challenging you and interrupting the flow of your presentation.

If that happens in the future, there is a way to assert yourself without coming across as being too aggressive. Instead of confronting the bully, break eye contact with him, raise your arm and sweep it around the room as you ask, “What does the group think of Frank’s remark?”

The group will always come to your defense. They’ve been dying to silence the aggressive bully who keeps interrupting.

On the other hand, if you take on the bully and become overly aggressive yourself in trying to control the situation, the group will turn on you. Why? Because they won’t appreciate your aggressive behavior, either.

Changing Your Ways

It can be scary to assert yourself if you’re trying to gain approval from your manager or client (what if we lose the account?!). But assertiveness comes with the territory if you want to get ahead.

You know the situations where you’ve wanted to be more assertive but haven’t. Possibly it’s asking for a promotion, or presenting next year’s campaign. Write down these scenarios and how you would handle them.

Practice with a coach, either within your own organization or a consultant, so that you nail the key messages you want to communicate. Do role-plays and videotape the practice sessions so you can see yourself in action.

Being assertive may not be your natural style and you may feel that you’re being too aggressive. But you will probably be surprised to see in the video that’s not the case at all.

Isn’t it time that you took Betty Friedan’s advice and stood up for yourself ? You’re simply asking for what you want and earned.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.