Bitch in Business - How Being Assertive Can be Confused with Bitchy

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A friend of mine who worked with me a few years back, sent me this video below saying,

"You have to watch this. It's totally you."

Normally, people wouldn't think "compliment," when seeing a video entitled "Bitch in" anything, but I knew exactly what she meant, and smiled a little even before watching the video. 

The reality of the matter is, socially, I can be almost too nice. So people get a little baffled when they know me both socially and professionally. Because professionally, I've learned the hard way, that sometimes, to get things done well, you're going to be called a bitch.

I'd always been a sort of cheerful, bubbly, and "nice," leader in college and employee in other businesses. Then in business school, I was told by a professor that under no circumstances should we cry at work. I thought this to be a bit harsh, especially since I'd allowed people to make me cry in front of colleagues by calling me incompetent and saying I wasn't apt for certain tasks. It hurts, and my parents brought me up to think it's ok to cry if you have to. However, I also saw this ended up taking away from my credibility at work, and so I begged my professor to tell me what to do to not cry. She said, "Just. Don't do it." And also said to work on my assertiveness.

I believe assertiveness is the key to being a successful professional in many given situations. When we are assertive, we pass on not only confidence in ourselves and our work to potential clients and colleagues, we also do this in a positive light. It's the fine line between being passive and doing everything everyone else wants, and being agressive and insisting on your opinion and wants. 

The problem is, as a sweet woman, standing tall at 1,57 m (5 ft 1"), some people mistake assertiveness with "bitchiness," and this is where some people, especially women, come off as being agressive. Because that's not what they're like "usually," or people don't think it's a way that person should act in the workplace because he or she is not a part of management, or what have you.   

Recently, a friend of mine witnessed a phone call between myself and a client. I got wound up because he was rude to me when I refused to put in work that was not previously agreed upon, and told him exactly what the conditions for our project were in what I thought was a reasonable tone. 

To which my friend who overheard this said, 

"Wow, you're mean to your clients." 

And I replied, 

"I'm not mean. I'm just fair to myself. I know I'm right, this is how you get clients to respect your work."

Why yes, I smoke cigars, should I not?
This client, at the end of the project, told me he'd passed on my number and recommended me to 2 other business owners.

In my job before starting my own business, I worked in a department that was 96% male. This means hearing and seeing things that you wouldn't want to - being a feminist woman or male. I was 'forced' to hear that I wasn't "feminine" enough because I drank whiskey and sweard as much as my male colleagues, and my only negative feedback on a report once was to watch my language (in a department full of people who would make any sailor blush). I also witnessed the only other female manager in the company be called a bitch over and over again. Was told I had a "strong" personality (which in Portuguese translates to - You're a bitch, but I'm being polite about it). And when a guy was a jerk, he was called a son of a bitch or would hear things like, "Have you seen his wife? No wonder he's bitter." 

One conversation in which I was considered a bitch, that sticks out to me from the office was when my coordinator was told by two managers that his pregnant wife would never be the same after having the baby and it was all downhill from there. That she'd put on weight and become bitter. Everyone in the office laughed. Including the 2 other women. To this, I turned around to them, both overweight workaholic men whose wives were at home mothers who gave up successful careers, and said, "I wouldn't be the same either if my husband was fat and neglectful." Nobody laughed, and I was told by a colleague that that was "harsh."

In other jobs, I've been told that I'm an incompetent gringa, been lectured on how I should work overtime (for free) because I don't have a husband and kids, been 'complimented' on my ass and legs by colleagues and managers in the middle of the office, and in many other uncomfortable situations in which the bitch in me was forced to come out. 

And we have to admit to ourselves that the world isn't at a place in which women are seen as equals by everyone yet. We're not seen to many as strong and independent. And so for me, the best way to not cry about it, was to own the bitch in me, and tell it how it is. I started to educate, and say I'm not going to take this sort of biased opinion and pre-determined belief system. I may be the bitch in the department. I may not get to close certain deals with some clients. But at least I know I'm getting business done well, and not letting anyone push me around. 

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