A few years ago, I attended a panel discussion titled, “Women in Business”.
The panel was full of successful women entrepreneurs. Towards the end, after more than two hours of great stories and thought-provoking ideas, there was lull in the questions. Suddenly, a hand from the second row flew into the air, and an audience member asked the panel,
“How do you ladies keep a healthy balance between being aggressive and assertive while pursuing business success?”
Each of the women on the panel were allowed to respond. Some did and some did not. The general theme of the responses were, “In order to succeed in business, you MUST be aggressive.”
There was a small moment of silence and I had a belief, an idea, that needed to be shared. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I raised my hand, stood, and said,
“I don’t believe this is a question of either/or. Aggressive people, or aggressive actions, may claim ‘it’s business’ but cross others boundaries disrespectfully. A ‘no’ wasn’t respected because someone else believed their wants and needs were more important.”
Let’s dig into this a bit.
Aggression is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the practice of making attacks or encroachments; especially: unprovoked violation by one country of the territorial integrity of another”.
Assertiveness is defined by Dorland’s Medical Dictionary as, “a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof, this affirms the persons rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.”
Without her realizing it, the lady in the second row asked a question that is impossible to answer because there is no balance within opposites. The obvious issue here that wasn’t seen, is that there is a boundary issue in how people live their lives.
Everyone on this Earth has the right to think, feel, and believe whatever they choose. Everyone on this Earth has the right to pursue their passions; whatever craft, vocation, or business they desire. And we should all be able to do it without fear, a fear that we are going to be bullied or made fun of, a fear that our rights will be diminished. Unfortunately, that reality isn’t true for any of us. Haters gonna hate, am I right Taylor Swift? Sweet jam by the way. But I digress.
One thing that helps us handle the toxic behaviors of people we encounter, those aggressive haters, is assertively setting our boundaries and sticking to them.
They allow each person to decide what is acceptable and unacceptable in their lives. It allows us to communicate genuinely, our yes is our yes and our no means no. Having boundaries allows us time and energy to take care of ourselves. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish, as we will talk about in another article.
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And we need to set limits on what we will allow people to do to and for us. The people we relate to need to know we have boundaries. It helps everyone.
Those with toxic behaviors, laugh in the face of limits.
These people can be found everywhere. They can be our boss, a coworker, an employee. They could be a sibling or parent, maybe even our lover or spouse. Sometimes friends surprise us with their toxic ways. They not only push our boundaries, but they step boldly across them. For some of us, each time they pushed or crossed us, we gave in. We moved back our line in the sand, giving them more room. Remember the definitions above? Toxic behaviors can be aggressive, and aggression isn’t healthy.
People may not like our new boundaries. Others may push back, trying to make us feel bad for causing them discomfort. Of course they are uncomfortable, but that is a sign you are on the right track. You do not have to feel any guilt for asserting your wants and needs. Don’t give in. This new way of living will take time to become natural. Be patient with yourself.XO,