21 Ways Women Can Be Assertive in Business

For women in business, there still seems to be a fine line between asserting oneself and coming across unfavorably, and perhaps being referred to as something that rhymes with “witch.” Women work hard to compete in their given arenas with excellence, and are at times disparaged for playing tough.

Rather than backing down from what we deserve as much as the “next guy” I wanted to hear from those of you who’ve had experience with this challenge, on both sides of the table, and asked -

What is your single best tip on how women entrepreneurs can stand tall in business and earn the respect they deserve?

I was thrilled to receive solid strategies from both men and women on this topic, and found the submissions to be encouraging, thoughtful, and right on target. There’s nothing wrong with being confident about one’s ability — and I encourage women to showcase their natural gifts, rather than ever trying to conform to the status quo. Being accepted as an equal from both genders in business requires one to be knowledgeable, respectful, persuasive, and persistent. So ladies, just remember that no one has the power to hold you back unless you allow them to do so. Enjoy!


1. Say It With A Smile

If you are found in a situation where you need to be assertive in business, do so with a smile on face. When you have a smile on your face you can still be confident and self-assured, but people will not think that you are being forward or forceful with what you are asking them to do. They will be more apt to do what you ask, and even smile back as they are doing it. It ends up being a win-win situation!

Thanks to Barbara Goldberg of Back On Track Solutions

2. Don’t Let The B Word Get You Down

If I’m called the b-word because I am goal-oriented, assertive, and steadfast, fine. I’ll take that over being called a pushover or lacking confidence anytime. If you are acting professional in something you do with others, but sense that the b word is brewing in the mind of the person you’re interacting with, do not back down. Keep moving as if you have a b-word bouncy shield. You’ll get more respect for sticking to your guns than for buckling in fear of a maligned word.

Thanks to Lisa Kalner Williams of Sierra Tierra Marketing

3. Be Prepared!

In my business dealings with men, I always wear the most professional-looking but flattering clothes, am thoroughly prepared for any encounter, shake hands warmly and look ‘em straight in the eye, and always make sure they know that I’m listening very carefully to what they say.

Thanks to Jane Blume of Desert Sky Communications

4. You’re Not Going To Get An Academy Award

I love women in business. Heck, I am one. The primary cause for B_TCHINESS is when women (men, too!) get too emotionally involved in a working relationship or project. My advice is to not let your feelings overtake you and compromise your professionalism. No one will want to work with you, and it can ruin a relationship that may have been extremely profitable. If you need to scream, get in your car and scream until your vocal chords need a glass of water. Don’t scream in a board meeting or on a conference call; you owe it to yourself and to the other party.

Thanks to Liz Theresa of Liz Theresa, Internet Marketing Strategist

5. Genuine, Honest, And Confident, Not B*tchy.

This is such a tough one for me. I am by nature, a people-pleaser. I like to make people happy, but I am passionate about doing what is best and right. This often does not make everyone happy. My rule is to be sincere and honest. If I am honest with myself and those around me, I am confident in what I am delivering. Be it male or female, as long as you have facts to support your statements, and confidence in the information you are delivering, you are perceived as professional and firm instead of emotional and b*tchy. At least this is my hope!

Thanks to Amber Schaub of RuffleButts, Inc.

6. Tell It Straight

You can be assertive without being a b_ _ _ _ by being straightforward. Too often women beat around the bush and come across as conniving rather than truthful. Perhaps this comes from the fact they feel as though they are not heard, so they say the same thing in several ways. If you tell it straight without holding back any details you will be seen as thorough not an aggressive b_ _ _ _. It all starts with being confident in your approach and knowing what it is you want as an outcome. Tell it straight and you’ll be given the respect that you deserve.

Thanks to Vicki Donlan of VickiDonlan

7. Be A Player In The Big Leagues

Used to the respect automatically accorded teachers, I quickly found, as a new hire in the world of business, that I had a lot of learning to do. (About a week after I had been hired, I heard that a client had told my boss, “Marlene has to learn she is playing in the big leagues now.”) These businessmen knew so much more than I knew. But, I had knowledge of my own. To remind them I was smart enough to enter and succeed in their world, I would occasionally use words beyond their ken. In time, these men accorded me a measure of (fear-based) respect.

Thanks to Dr. Marlene Caroselli of Center For Professional Development

8. Be Firm

How many times has someone asked for your prices, and you say “well normally my price is $$$, but we can talk about your budget…” Don’t do this! You don’t have to negotiate every deal, yet as women we naturally want to make sure we are meeting everyone’s needs (even when we don’t know what they are). Whether it’s prices, deadlines, scope, or any other part of business, it’s so important to remain firm and confident. It’s just business.

Thanks to Jessica Oman of Write Ahead

9. When They Least Expect It!

In challenging situations, the response I have seen used most effectively is humor. I have seen women confronted and disrespected, who throw back a clever response and gain the upper hand masterfully. This requires a perspective inside about the posturing by peers as a “game”. If you can see it as a game, and not take the situation personally it makes it easier to find a clever come-back. This is not easy to do, however I continue to work on building this skill!

Thanks to Maureen Daniek of Radiance Coaching And Consulting

10. Don’t Worry About The Masses

Forget the stigma. If you want to be a strong entrepreneur and not a strong female entrepreneur, you will have to forget what the crowd thinks and do what you think is best. When you start second-guessing yourself, that’s when confidence starts to waver. Stay confident and you will do well as an entrepreneur.

Thanks to Michael Pesochinsky of GovernmentAuctions.org

11. Don’t Let Them See You Doubt

As long as you show that you have confidence in the actions you take, it’s easier to be assertive. There will always be people for whom even the slightest hint that you’re standing up for yourself will be considered too assertive, but if you show them perfect confidence in yourself, they have less room to cause problems. That means that you have to cultivate a sense that you’re right: you have to do the research and demonstrate to yourself that each step you take is the right one, so that you can convince other people of the same thing.

Thanks to Thursday Bram of Hyper Modern Consulting

12. Never Be Timid

The best entrepreneurs are not timid. You need to be assertive to get ahead in the business world. If you think people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates cared what people thought about their demeanor then you are surely mistaken. They were a huge success because of their ability to tell people what they want directly and being assertive when they needed to be.

Thanks to Elik Aaron of SaleRacks

13. Stand Tall, Speak Small

I believe it is a great time for women to be in business. The best strategy to employ to be successful? Speak small. I say what I need to say and then I stop. No explaining. No apologizing. Since I have the tendency to be chatty, this was no easy feat. But what I came to realize is that if you just state what you need, or how you want something done or even how much you charge with no excess verbage, people will stand up, take notice, respect you and listen!

Thanks to Leslie Josel of Order Out Of Chaos

14. Never Back Down

To be assertive without being perceived as a B*?&%, be firm and fair in everything you do. Once you have made a decision, stand by it, make sure it pertains to everyone, and don’t back down from it. By always doing this, people will learn that you mean what you say, but that you are fair and you are serious.

Thanks to Michelle Dunn of Michelle Dunn Writer, LLC

15. Find Common Ground

I believe that it is hard for a woman to go wrong in asserting herself if she begins by acknowledging, and even emphasizing, the common ground shared with the man or men she is dealing with. From that vantage point, the woman should encounter less resistance to the diverging opinions that she puts forth. This is particularly important when faced with men who are considerably older, or men from other cultures who do not value women in business as much as western cultures do. I used this technique when I was faced with a much older Asian man, whose work for my client was totally unacceptable. By the time I left the meeting with him, his boss, and my client, I had a friend for life! Every time this man spoke of me in public since that encounter, he sang my praises. Find common ground!

Thanks to Monique Y. Wells of Understanding Time Management

16. Rely On Your Support

Make sure you have a strong support group. If you have friends, family, and contemporaries backing you up, then you should have the confidence to never back down if you feel like you’re doing the right thing. Many female entrepreneurs fail because they sometimes try to do everything on their own. Having a wall of people behind you to give you a push if you fall back can mean the world when you start to doubt yourself.

Thanks to I. Aronovich of Awardable

17. What Is Wrong With Being Called A B&*%$ ?

Remember, the emotion behind a word belongs to the owner of the emotion… only transferring to you if you accept it. The best defense for this sort of thing is to stand tall and strong in what you believe in, and then conduct yourself in a professional, fair and humane manner in all things to get there. In other words, remember that the people around your are just that, and are not your career stepping stones. Do not shrink in your light and vision because this may scare another person who is not quite as strong or sure of their own light and vision. And then just let it roll off your back and continue moving forward.

Thanks to Linda Hughes of Entrepreneur Community Online, LLC

18. Being Real

Stop seeing yourself as a ‘woman’ in a ‘man’s’ world and start seeing yourself and the ‘others’, all as people. Do not treat yourself or the other gender as something different from a human being with all the same inner types of emotions and feelings that every person has.

I find that it’s never about taking the position about trying to be right or winning the point. The idea is to always discuss and relate with others on a level, whether it’s a social event or business meeting, as an individual that is a team player. A team player is someone interested in an outcome that is good for all, and it doesn’t matter if it was they who led the way. Just be a contributor, not looking for credit, and you will be surprised how you will come to be looked up to as a true professional.

Thanks to Harris Glasser of Serving The People Press LLC

19. Get The Facts Straight

Back up your attitude with facts. If you constantly freak out and get loud with people, without bringing the facts, you will look like a misinformed mess. There is no reason to raise hell when there is nothing wrong. You should always be a strong individual when it comes to business ventures, but you should also never go out of your way to cause problems.

Thanks to Max Aronson of Government-Auctions-Guide

20. Do The Right Thing With Conviction

Remind yourself that every difficult decision will benefit someone else. Disciplining an under-performer will help a whole team. Cutting jobs will help preserve security for others. Keep yourself internally focused on those benefits in all your dealings, and you are far less likely to convey anger, stress, or frustration but instead conviction and honesty.

Thanks to Joanna Pieters of Alpha Content

21. Collaborative Competition Is The New Strategy For How Women Can Succeed In A Man’s World

In business, those who act boldly or seek perfection before they’ve built the necessary support structure are likely to tumble. This leaves women vulnerable because they tend to strive for perfection and prefer a small network of close-knit relationships. Women risk being labeled a bitch if they strive to aggressively do something new – which is the lifeblood of an entrepreneur. The key for women is to accept their greatest strengths as both strong collaborators and relationship builders. Based on research for my book, the women who rated themselves as happy and successful were skilled strategic collaborators. These savvy women build both supportive and strategic alliances. Goodbye icky labels!

Thanks to Kathryn Mayer of KC Mayer Consulting, Inc.




Thanks so much again to all our wonderful contributors for sharing your best tips for how women can be successfully assertive in business! We hope to hear from you again. And to all our readers, if you have an innovative idea to share, we hope you will leave it in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    What great advice from wise women! I particularly enjoyed Linda’s advice (#17).

    • Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Becky! Yes, I loved the contributions for this post too. Linda rocks, and I am glad that you found her comments helpful. :) Thank you for reading! Shannon

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