How Women Can Be Assertive Without Acting Like a Man

But I don’t want to have to act like a man.”

Sue Reynolds with men's hat
Get Ahead Without Acting Like a Man

This is a comment I get on my TikTok videos frequently. My videos are focused on helping women improve their spoken, written, and body language in order to be more assertive in the workplace, and I’m finding there is a lot of fear around this topic. Some of it is justified, of course. Women are held to a very different standard when it comes to assertiveness, and behaviors that are perfectly appropriate for men are often criticized in a woman. Just ask any women in a high-profile position, including public office.

Still, we need to figure out how to assert ourselves more effectively in the workplace if we want to get ahead. We need to stop buying into these narratives that assertive women will be labeled bossy and difficult. Instead, let’s normalize assertiveness! Here’s how to go about being more assertive without “acting like a man.”

Pro tip: if you want to know what assertive looks like, visit my blog on Assertive versus Aggressive behavior, and download a free worksheet on the difference.

Set Clear Boundaries

If you are being disrespected, set boundaries early. You teach people how to treat you by what you tolerate. How you handle unwanted sexist or disrespectful remarks sets the tone for the future. I recommend letting them know that you’ll let it go this time, but the next time they’re in for it! You can say this in a friendly way without coming across angry. But you can still mean it. Make sure to follow through if it happens again.

Use Humor

I have a dry sense of humor, which I bring to the workplace as much as is appropriate. When emailing colleagues I will include memes, my Bitmojis, screenshots of funny pics, and more to make a point without being threatening. There’s no need to be threatening. I enjoy my work and I want my colleagues to enjoy working with me. We are a team and establishing these relationships is critical. Yes be assertive, but also use humor and build relationships to build trust.

It looks like me doesn’t it?

To learn more about using humor in business, check out the book Fish by Stephen C. Lundin. In it, the authors describe the famous Seattle Pike Place Fish Company pictured in this photo. There, they throw the fish to each other and to their customers, making what would otherwise be a cold and difficult job into one that’s fun, engaging, and draws a crowd every day. It’s a great philosophy for building relationships and making any workplace more enjoyable.

Pike Place Fish Company
Pike Place Fish Company, Seattle, WA

Stop Apologizing 

I can’t stress this enough, and I’ve written an entire blog on why women need to stop apologizing at work. Don’t apologize for your presence, for stating your opinion, or for disagreeing. You also don’t need to apologize if you don’t want to do something, and you don’t need to explain why, unless it’s your boss asking you to do a project. In that case, ask for help in prioritizing other tasks so you don’t set yourself up for failure. 

Use Confident Body Language

The Confidence Stance

It may feel weird at first, but try shifting your body language a bit, such as using the confidence stance I’m modeling in this photo. See my hands? This stance will project confidence even if you don’t really feel confident! Do like your grandmother told you and sit and stand up straight. Try a superwoman pose! Your body language has a lot to do with how you are perceived, and how you feel, so much so I’ve dedicated this blog on body language in the workplace to address it.

Act Like Yourself

When someone asks of any of my assertiveness tips, “isn’t this acting like a man,” my immediate response is the key word here is acting. You need to be yourself while still being confident. Work on eliminating body language and speech that make you sound like a pushover. Resist going the other extreme and acting overly aggressive to fit in too. Being different from men isn’t something you need to hide or try to change. Be your authentic self. If you’re pretending, people will be able to tell and they will lose trust in you. Instead, work on being more assertive in both written and spoken communications. 

Leadership for Women Series

For more tips, watch my free webinar on How To Get Ahead Without Acting Like a Man, which is part of my full Leadership for Women workshop series, developed for women struggling with being heard and getting respect in the workplace. Let me know what you think in the comments!


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