I don’t know if it’s the tone of my voice or the amount of passion behind the words I speak. But more often than not my assertiveness is grossly mislabeled. Because I can lead with “No” and end with “No,” I have bypassed being assertive and landed right on being aggressive. Let’s be completely honest here, as a black woman who runs a business, assertiveness is a key component of success. I have to know how to get my point across and enforce my boundaries. However, this trait can often be mistaken for aggressiveness.
Why is it that when black women are assertive, they often get labeled as aggressive? If I had to guess, I would say it is because of the stereotypes that have been perpetuated throughout the years about black women. Too often, we are seen as angry, pushy, and overly demanding. While these traits may not necessarily be true of black women who are entrepreneurs, they are traits that have been associated with us. And it can be difficult to break these stereotypes. This can lead to people underestimating our abilities, or not taking us seriously.
It also can be extremely damaging to our businesses.
Quite frankly, having to constantly worry about if my being “assertive” is offensive is disheartening and discouraging to me. Especially when I, like everyone else, am simply trying to make sure that I am being heard and understood – being misunderstood is not the goal. So, how do we as black women in business combat this stereotype?
Well, I will tell you what I do:
- When speaking, I try to use language that is neutral and ensure my tone is just as neutral. This helps to alleviate misunderstandings and leaves little room for misinterpretations.
- I try to be mindful of my body language. I make sure that I’m making eye contact and smiling when appropriate. Doing this helps to convey that I am confident and open to discussion.
- Have a keen awareness of my surroundings and the people I’m interacting with. When you know what to expect, you tend to prepare for how to react – and that, my friends, helps a ton.
Ultimately, being assertive is vital for success as a business owner. I work to alleviate the incorrect interpretation of my assertiveness, but don’t be mistaken. What I said…that is what I meant, and that is what it shall be. Just because one misinterprets the message does not change the message. #isaidwhatisaid