Some of us avoid stepping up to the important conversations, particularly at work or when we’re new to a group, because we want others to view us as nice. Or gentle. Or easygoing. Or ____ (fill in the blank with whatever view you want people to have of you).
Women, more frequently than men, tell me they worry that speaking up at work will cause them to be tagged as "too aggressive." Rarely a shrinking violet myself, I’ve had a supervisory man or two tell me I’m on the assertive end of the continuum (hmm…as I thought about it, I realized I can’t recall a single woman ever saying that to me).
I didn’t like hearing it much either, though I didn’t take that feedback to mean I should stop speaking up about things that are important. I took it to mean that the man who said it had some of his own issues with conflict or strong women, or that I had approached it in a way that was less effective than it could have been.
Let me offer you these considerations: Who said that being too aggressive and being nice (or whatever your own image goal is) are mutually exclusive? And who ever suggested that speaking up translates as being aggressive? You are not that simplistic a human, all of one thing or all of the other and nothing in between.
If being seen as nice is important to you (and perhaps women feel this pressure more, culturally speaking), you’re muting and disempowering yourself if you define nice as uncomplaining or non-assertive. You may seem nice, but you may not feel particularly nice as the thing that’s bothering you finds other outlets.
If you didn’t get a chance to read the first post in this mini-series, you can find it at Conflict Avoidance Reason 1: It Will Hurt the Relationship.