Yesterday my friend Lauren asked me to blog about the difference between assertiveness and bitchiness. Ouch, Lauren, can you give me a trickier question next time, please? I’ll do my best to put out my personal approach to this question and leave it up to you whether I have said anything worthwhile. (But let me first reveal my bias toward slightly more assertive behavior only because in my forty years I have seen, repeatedly, how those who speak out, ask questions, and tell the truth, stay in touch with themselves and ultimately have a more satisfying journey toward their dreams.) It is never easy to be assertive, but it offers a real kick for your health...
Remember, assertiveness or bitchiness is always in the eye of the beholder, not the speaker. That means that depending on what someone’s got at stake in any given matter, a comment heard simultaneously by two people may be seem bitchy by one and fabulously assertive by the other. For instance, if your boss needs someone to message up about problems at work, he may appreciate an outspoken approach that combines preparedness and knowledge of business issues. If a colleague in the same meeting, however, feels threatened by you and your sharp mind and/or ability to speak up, you will have a hard time convincing her that you aren’t a bitch no matter what you say at the meeting.
Bottom line: in any given scenario, some will find you bitchy and some will find you effective. And that is why the issue at hand is not whether you are bitchy or assertive, but how you feel about your behavior, moment to moment. The woman in the example above is feeling self-assured, and prepared, so she speaks up. As long as she isn’t tromping on others’ rights and condemning her peers, she will, over time, become a valued team player. If, on the other hand, she is often working in an isolated manner, and appears repeatedly as a self-serving person, her peers and ultimately management will tell her fate.
At a very young age we women are conditioned into receiving (and asking) for cues from others in order to behave appropriately. Do you like me? Am I pretty? Am I lovable? These are the common questions of young girls … young ladies … and, unfortunately, older women as well.
But if we are on a satisfactory path, a key shift in our development may come sometime between thirty and fifty. This shift will land the authority for our behavior within us, not outside of us, so that when we act or speak, we are more fully in charge of the intentions we carry.
A quick glance around any office may reveal a key difference between women who are powerful and women who are bitches. What is the difference? Assertive, effective women are generally fair, consistent, and knowledgeable, and they exhibit compassion for others even when the other is an adversary.
Effective women have authority over themselves and try to keep the focus on business or personal goals. They conduct their affairs transparently, saving certain topics for appropriate settings. Women who are assertive do not talk about others maliciously, and usually hold themselves to a very high standard of conduct. That said, somehow the most effective women I know are also: fun, creative, and terrific mentors.
In closing, assertive women aren’t perfect; but they do know themselves well enough to know when they have behaved like a bitch. And then they do what is most effective: apologize and commit to doing better next time.