You’re so bossy!

Assertiveness is not gender specific

Observing my children interact with each other teaches me so much. Recently I sat back and listened to my 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son have a ‘discussion’ at the kitchen table.  They were each telling each other, very clearly, what they wanted the other one to do.  Some would say they were talking AT each other. Ironically neither was listening to the other’s needs.  My daughter refused to give in to her brother’s requests and gracefully accepted that he didn’t want to go along with what she wanted.  But she remained resolute to what she wanted to do.  He on the other hand, was relentless and unaccepting of her lack of flexibility, even though he too wasn’t being flexible at all.  His closing remarks to her were, “You’re sooo bossy!”


It was interesting to hear that his perspective of her asserting herself, was that she was ‘bossy’.  This situation is not dissimilar to what many assertive women experience in the workplace…

Women have shared with me their feelings about assertiveness and how they are sometimes perceived.  They often feel that if they act assertively and confidently they will be perceived as aggressive and bossy.  Some women say they lack the confidence regardless of the type of environment they work in, and others explain that the environment exacerbates their confidence issues.  Regardless, a common theme for my female clients is their desire to be more assertive.  I’ve heard them say that they have trouble saying no, expressing their opinions, establishing realistic boundaries or being clear on their needs.  One of the levers to being more assertive is to build confidence.

The NeuroLeadership Institute suggests that confidence can be built by focusing on how we think, feel and act.  We can take an inside-out approach by focusing on our thinking and feelings, or we can take an outside-in approach by focusing more on our actions and behaviour.

Often people assume that assertiveness is a male trait, and that is doesn’t come naturally for women. A research paper by Davis & Mehta actually found it is the hormone profile of an individual that impacts on their assertiveness, and this holds across genders.  That hormone profile consists of a balance of high testosterone and low cortisol.  This balance can improve one’s ability to ‘be persistent in the face of failure, be better at negotiating and more willing to take risks’.

But, don’t jump to conclusions that this means that women can’t be assertive, just because naturally they have lower testosterone than men!  It is this balance of high testosterone and low cortisol that is important, not having one or the other, and not male or female.

The great news is that there are strategies that everyone can take to enable this balance, including:

Raise Testosterone Lower Cortisol
Use power posing Use power posing
Get a good night’s sleep Get a good night’s sleep
Eliminate sugar from your diet and eat healthy  fats Socialise and connect with people
Include strength training in your exercise regime Exercise at a moderate level
Add intermittent fasting to your weekly diet Practice mindfulness
Mantain optimum levels of zinc and vitamin D Reframe negative thoughts and events


Other than balancing your hormone levels, there are other simple strategies that can be used to increase confidence and assertiveness including:


Inside-Out Outside-In
Practice a Growth Mindset Practice power posing before significant conversations or meetings.
Remind yourself of when you’re at your confident best Identify new behaviours that demonstrate confidence and take baby steps to start using these behaviours
Use visualisation techniques to create a picture of exactly how your confident self things, feels and acts. Role play scenarios to practice assertiveness with a coach, mentor or someone you trust
List 3 things that you’re proud of every day. Observe the behaviours of confident and assertive people and try adopting those behaviours
Use affirmations Ask a confident person to mentor you


There are many small things that you can do to make a significant difference to your confidence.

If you want to learn more about what you can do, and be supported on how to do it.  Then check out C-School, and start growing your confidence and assertiveness today.

Question:  What strategies do you use to feel more confident and assertive?

Davis and Mehta (2015).  An Ideal Hormone Profile for Leadership: Can You Help Yourself Be A Better Leader? NeuroLeadership Institute Journal Issue Six

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