THE BLOG

Why Women Need To Be More Powerful Around Men

03/01/2015 07:51 EST | Updated 05/01/2015 05:59 EDT

I've noticed a trend among women in their personal and professional relationships: the tendency to soft-pedal when expressing their displeasure with something a man has done.

These women are concerned about how the man might react to their feedback. They're afraid that he's going to become defensive or that he'll be a bully and try to shut the conversation down. What these women need to know, though, is that their defensive technique is backfiring.

We women are trained, from an early age, to always be pleasing and not to upset or provoke men. Many of us are socialized to be somewhat afraid of men. We hesitate to challenge them on behavior that bothers us out of this conditioning (and/or fear).

We need to see that we don't always have to be so pleasing, and that really, there's nothing to fear.

Most men are reasonable and respectful toward women. Most men are willing to listen to feedback that's expressed appropriately. We don't need to tiptoe around all men because a few of them are bullies.

We can distinguish the reasonable men in our lives from the unreasonable men, simply by observing their reactions to our expressions of anger, displeasure or frustration toward them.

A reasonable man is willing to take responsibility for his part in things; he'll accept our feedback and will make every effort to accommodate our needs. He won't become hostile or defensive if we let him know that something he's done has made us angry or upset.

On the other hand, an unreasonable man will become hostile or defensive when we tell him, "Hey, I'm angry about X," or "I didn't like that you did/said X." He'll make us feel like we're being over-sensitive or hurtful when we express our frustration or displeasure to him.

In either case, the man's reaction will give us important information about how we will or won't be able to negotiate with him in good faith.

In fact, by soft-peddling, we lose out with both types of men: with the reasonable ones, our failure to be completely honest with them makes it so that they don't really know how we feel or what we want, and as a result, they can't meet our needs.

With the unreasonable men; the bullies, our attempts to be careful are read as signs of weakness, which only encourages them to be that much more aggressive toward us and that much less willing to listen to us. We'd be much better off being assertive here, as this type of man responds more favorably to a show of power than to a show of tentativeness.

In the workplace, we have to be more strategic in what we say, especially to those in positions above us. Still, if there's a male colleague who's ticking us off, there may be situations in which it's preferable to be straight with him and let him know how he's making us feel.

Males will often tell their colleague, "Hey man, you're starting to tick me off," and they'll be respected for it. Again, being more assertive rather than less so is an indicator of power and more likely to ward off aggression from a bully than incur it.

So, the take-away message here is that we don't need to be so careful with the men in our personal or professional lives.

Unless we're actually afraid of physical violence - in which case we should have nothing whatsoever to do with this man - we should feel free to inform the men in our personal lives, and when appropriate, in our professional lives, when we're angry with them for something they've done.

The reasonable ones will have no problem with this and in fact, it will help them better understand how to treat us. The unreasonable ones will identify themselves by their bad reactions and do us the great favor of showing us that they aren't people we should be wasting our time with.

Please sign up here for my free monthly wellness newsletter. March is all about eating your clean greens, building self-compassion and getting back on the exercise bandwagon.

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