So today I’m taking you back to 4 years ago when I spoke on ASSERTIVENESS at Nikki Nigl’s About Her event in Chicago US. I also share the story in Yarns of inspiration II and the video below.
Here it goes:
Are you battling with men in your work-life, especially those who cannot stand your level of assertiveness? If yes, then pay attention to my experience below…
As an only sister among two brothers, while growing up, my parents never did or said anything to let me think that a girl was less important than boys. We were all treated equally, praised when we did well and punished when we misbehaved. I competed head to head with boys in the class and not to brag or anything, I did quite well in primary school and even represented my school in several quiz competitions. I don’t recall a time when I felt I was not good enough simply because I was a girl. Mind you, I had a lot of self-esteem issues, but they were not because someone told me I was a girl.
So anyway, I lived in my own bubble of a world in which males and females were all treated equally until my first corporate job after my national service back home in Ghana. This was my first recollection of being told ‘you can’t do this because you are a woman’. It was shocking, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. On two occasions, I remember having arguments with some of the men in the office and it was clear that they could not stand the way I voiced out my thoughts or behaved like ‘one of the boys’. Around this time, there were all these conversations about women empowerment, and although I would occasionally contribute, I never really understood what the fuss was all about because I was in my own bubble.
Then I moved on to another job where I became a manager in a male-dominated company. As usual, I saw myself as just one of the managers. Then one day, a male colleague told me in these exact words ‘Ama, the email you sent me yesterday was too assertive’. I was baffled. First of all, I didn’t even know what the word assertive meant! The minute he left my office, I went to check it up and found the following meanings; self-confident, forceful, etc. These made me even more confused, so I went back to read the email which went something like this:
Ms. B will be starting work in your department as a C on blah blah date. Ensure that she has X, Y, Z in place by the time she reports. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.
I asked myself over and over, what did he mean by ‘too assertive’ from this email. I finally decided to ask him, and from his explanation, my tone was as if I was commanding him like I was his boss and not his colleague. Really?! It was on this day that I finally understood that there was something called ego and men had it! It also explained all those times that I found myself arguing with men over simple issues. Frankly, though, it was not every man I knew with whom I had this encounter. Some were more accepting, and perhaps that was why it took me so long to realize this.
I also realized that I was honestly tired of fighting some particular men in the workplace environment. I needed a strategy to get these men to do what they had to do without so much fuss. So what did I resort to? Magic words; please, and thank you! These are words that I had been taught to use since childhood, but for some reason, I apparently wasn’t using them enough at the workplace. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it worked like magic. So now, a typical email like the above will go like this:
Please, be informed that Ms. B will be starting work in your department as a C on blah blah date. Kindly ensure that she has X, Y, Z in place by the time she reports. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
With this simple change in wording, I began enjoying fewer fights with these men of ego- just like magic! To them, I was finally showing respect, just as I also deserved. And guess what, when I ask for things to be done politely and say ‘thank you’ when it is done, I don’t feel any less of a woman or subdued by a man. I feel I am respecting them and hence can demand their respect too. And I make a conscious effort to give this same respect to women as well because really, it is the human thing to do.
Dearest Woman Jackie Chan always having to fight Man Mayweather in your office, please try using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to all and let’s do a survey to see if the fights get minimized. This year’s (2018) theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Pressing For Progress’; as we keep pressing, let us remember that our enemies are not men. In fact, we need their support as we press for progress and so let us treat them with respect, the same way we demand of them to respect us. Let us use magic words, shall we? I would also like to recommend a great book by Dale Carnegie ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’. I hope these help, bless you!
PS: Visit https://www.amaduncan.com/store/ for my books
Photograph by: Vera Obeng Photography