Black History Month has passed, and we have also just closed out Women’s History Month. During that time, we (re)examined our history and heard about/planned/attended sessions geared towards educating and uplifting women. Time was spent celebrating powerful women throughout our history and the impacts they have made on the world.
Women are formidable instruments of power. Drive, ambition, and smarts have taken us to outer space and landed us in the White House (and many places in between). We head households, states and countries, and, also in the Virgin Islands, we hold the reins in some of the highest positions in our government and businesses.
Women also have great financial power. Data suggests that women make the vast majority of purchasing decisions in the United States spending trillions of dollars annually. Baby boomer women are more financially empowered than previous generations due to successful careers and investments. Marketers must therefore play close attention in order to reap the benefits of this daunting group of purchasers.
However, there is other power that women possess that is usually not captured in the headlines and is often overlooked. The power that I refer to does not involve running a campaign, opening your purse or closing a deal. One power source that can also transform the world is this: assertive communication.
There have been many great debates in our lifetime, but one that is less familiar is the assertive vs. aggressive debate. What are the pros and cons? Assertive communication is clear, calm and non-threatening. It is positive and respectful. On the other hand, aggressive communication is high on emotion and low on empathy.
If you find yourself raising your voice, talking over others and criticizing, you are being aggressive. When we communicate assertively, we appear confident and in control and keep others’ feelings and needs in mind. This healthy type of communication helps us to set boundaries and gets us respect. It leads to better relationships and improved outcomes.
How can our interactions have maximum impact? Be mindful that communication is a conversation, not a competition. Let’s think of it as a way to form connections with our words. What is our communication competency? Do we complement our sisters or does our criticism outweigh our praise? Do the younger ones hear us speak positively about other women, or do our words hurt and demean? Do we spend more time talking to women or talking about them?
As women take on higher positions in the world, so the need for assertive communication increases. Whether negotiating, persuading or collaborating, open and inviting dialogue is necessary. Therefore, as women hone skills that enable us to start businesses and board meetings, we must also sharpen this vital soft skill.
Assertive communication is not always easy; neither does it guarantee that if you speak assertively, the other person will model your communication style. Take my recent visit to a business office. I calmly explained my concern that the follow-up action they promised was not done, and that I left messages and my calls were not returned. When no assurance was forthcoming, I expressed my expectation that an apology would follow after I voiced my complaint. Well, suffice it to say that the young lady’s response did not pass the test for assertive communication!
Even so, I still had the satisfaction of knowing that I exercised self-control and that I made my feelings clear. Yes, communicating assertively takes restraint when you feel angry and slighted. You are also more likely to lose it when you don’t manage your stress effectively.
Oftentimes, we think that getting older gives us the right to speak how we want and say what we feel without any filter. But growing older should give us a greater sense of self-control and empathy. Don’t you think? Age should also teach us when it is proper to be quiet and patient for these moments of contemplation and introspection are even powerful tools for moving forward.
Some of the very powerful women that we admire today are powerful and admirable because of their ability to communicate effectively, thus bringing people together across cultural and socio-economic divides. How else could persons like Harriet Tubman and our own local Queens have exercised leadership, creativity and mobilization without effective communication?
Let us then cultivate the habit of speaking from a place of compassion and understanding, and of lifting up women (all people) with our words. When we do so, we strengthen our sisterhood and make an even more powerful effect on our world.
Sandra C. Bradley
Editor’s note: Sandra C. Bradley is a Source reader who loves to explore the power of words, the pits of an avocado and the peacefulness of nature.