The #1 Communication Skill Every Woman Needs

If you were raised to be a “nice girl,” you may inadvertently find yourself held back in the workplace because you’re a passive communicator. Many women are taught from an early age that to be nice means that you put yourself down to lift others up, use disclaimer phrases and generally let others’ wishes trump your own. What’s worse is your communication style reflects this.

In the corporate world, saying that you think your new project management idea may perhaps help if we just start implementing it slowly is not going to achieve buy-in from others. As young professional women, we’ve got to do better. We have to change our passive communication style if we want to grow and continue moving up in our career.

So how do we do that? By learning how to be an assertive communicator. Being assertive doesn’t mean trampling over others, and it doesn’t mean you have to stop being a nice person. On the contrary, being an assertive communicator shows that you have confidence in your abilities and believe your ideas are valuable. You’re still respecting others, but now, you’re also respecting yourself.

Let’s break down the top five changes you need to make to be an assertive communicator and gain the respect you deserve in the workplace.

1. Have a clear vision about who you are (or who you want to be).
On the surface this sounds easy, but sometimes it’s one of the most challenging things to do. Let’s say your skill is helping bring a diverse point of view to every brainstorm. Maybe it’s bridging the divide between two co-workers who always get into a spat. Whatever your strengths are, own them. Be confident in them. Know who you are and rock it.

On the flip side, let’s say you know who you are but wish to act differently. Maybe you’re too aggressive – constantly interrupting others, invading their space and disrespecting them. Start visualizing treating people the way they deserve and putting aside your own agenda. Do this for at least two to three minutes every day and start implementing little changes to get there. The power of visualizing yourself as the person you want to be can have a big sway on achieving your goals. Stay positive and focused.

Once you are confident in knowing who you are or at least who you aspire to be and have a plan to get there, it’ll show in your demeanor and interaction with others.

2. Avoid using passive disclaimers or minimal qualifiers.
Do you find yourself presenting new ideas to a group with statements like: “This may be a dumb idea, but…” or “I’m no expert on the matter, but…”? Using disclaimers instantly makes you seem less credible. They communicate that even you don’t find your idea or opinion worthy of consideration. Don’t put that thought into someone else’s mind. Instead, present your idea with confidence and assurance.

For example, compare these two statements: “This may seem stupid, but I think if we had two sales staff focus on thanking customers for at least five hours a week, our profits could grow by 10 percent.” or… “If two staff members focus on calling customers for five hours each week with the sole purpose of thanking them, our profits would grow by 10 percent according to my research.” Just a few words can make all the different in your assertiveness and, in turn, your credibility.

The same goes for using minimal qualifiers like “maybe,” “sort of,” “just,” “only” or “perhaps.” “Perhaps if we just spend one hour less in meetings that aren’t relevant to our department goals, maybe we could have time for other important activities.” or… “If we spend one hour less each week sitting in meetings that aren’t relevant to our sales goals, we would have time for analyzing what really matters.” Which one of those statements comes off better? The second one.

3. Be respectful of others.
Many confuse being assertive with being aggressive. An aggressive communicator, as previously mentioned, is constantly interrupting others, invading their personal space and disrespecting them. An aggressive communicator may get what they want, but they’re not going to win any respect – let alone any allies – while they go about it. If you want to get ahead and be there for the long haul, choose to respect others.

Assertive communicators still know how to get what they want, but they respect their rights and also the rights of others. They validate someone’s idea as a thoughtful contribution, even if they disagree with it, and never call them or their idea stupid. Assertive communicators are clear and make their thoughts and wishes known in a disagreement, but they never yell or bring personal matters into the argument.

Be considerate of others’ ideas and thoughts, but be direct. Don’t back down on what you know to be a great idea or improvement, and don’t back down on what you know to be a disaster waiting to happen. Confidently show them the evidence that backs up your point and stand firm, all while respecting their viewpoint and making them feel validated as an equal contributor to the project.

4. Build your self-esteem.
How many times have we heard that we need to “have more self-esteem?” Too many to count. But it’s true. You can’t be an assertive communicator if you don’t believe in yourself. While it may seem like a daunting or even impossible task, there are some simple steps you can take right now to start building self-esteem.

One way to build this essential trait is to be happy and do something for yourself every day. Choosing to be happy requires you to form a habit of responding to situations with the right attitude, which often doesn’t come naturally. When you choose to be happy, it comes across in your speech and mannerisms. Do something for yourself every day. Maybe its reading a favorite book series, taking a stroll down your street or playing with your furry companions in the park. When you do something for yourself and choose to be happy, you’re taking control of circumstances and being assertive about what kind of day you’re going to have. This, in turn, makes you feel good about yourself and builds self-esteem.

Another way to build self-esteem is to invest in your skills, talents and passions. You’ll be more confident if you feel equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to complete the task, thus building self-esteem. We need to be lifelong learners if we are to build self-esteem, whether we are learning tips to perfect our passion of photography or our technical career skills as a web developer.

5. Find an assertive role model.
Is there a woman you admire who has assertiveness down pat? Start following her as a role model. If it’s a mentorship or just a study of her mannerisms, speech and behaviors, find an assertive role model who can guide you through the process. Having a person who embodies what you want to be within your line of sight will keep the skills fresh in your mind and serve as a constant reminder of what you’re trying to achieve.

Start practicing these five steps today, and you’re well on your way to gaining respect and credibility in the workplace by being an assertive communicator. A special shout-out to the instructor from a recent seminar I attended who helped me hone these invaluable skills.

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Natasha Day

Natasha Day is a lifelong St. Louis resident and founder of Beautiful Day Creative. She loves capturing the essence of events through photography and shining a light on great moments transforming our community. Natasha also happens to be an avid Corgi fan, festival attendee and Zumba enthusiast. Got a story to share or just want to say hi? Catch her on Twitter at @N_Sakovich.