One day, a few years ago, I was talking with my mom about what makes a good leader and she said that by her standards the most important trait is to be humble.

She said…

“Good leaders don’t care who gets the credit, they just care about getting things done.”

And there are many times which that is true. But not always. There are times when my mothers advice would steer a professional woman wrong, in fact much more so than a man. There are times when you have to speak up for yourself, or you’ll find yourself fading into the background, and that’s not good for anyone’s career.

Here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself to discover if you need to be more assertive at work:

  1. Do you find yourself being talked over by your colleagues?
  2. Do you use words like “maybe” or “I think” to qualify all of your statements?
  3. Have you been passed over for choice projects or promotions?

Ok, now let’s take them one by one…

Do you find yourself being talked over by your colleagues?

If you’re a woman, you know the annoying experience of being interrupted by a male colleague as he runs roughshod over your “conversation” (ie he talks, you listen.) It doesn’t have to be a man though, workmates of all genders might have a tendency to interrupt you or talk over you either intentionally or unintentionally. If this is a frequent problem for you, I recommend practicing a couple of easy to remember ways you can assert your thought without being rude. Keeping your tone of voice friendly & upbeat can help. For example, you might try:

  • Excuse me, let me just finish this thought.
  • Oh! I wasn’t quite done yet, give me just a minute!

Do you use words like maybe/ I think/ sorry to qualify all of your statements?

Women are socialized to use certain words to soften the force of their speech. Girls are told to avoid “being bossy” starting at an early age. But this can majorly get in the way of you being taken seriously at work. If you’re always apologizing as you start a sentence, “I’m sorry, but have you considered…” then you’re setting your coworkers and boss up to think that YOU don’t believe you have a right to speak up, so why should they?

Awareness is the first step to breaking this bad habit. Notice when you say it and how often they’re filler phrases. Then, as you gain awareness of when you do it, try to stop yourself as it comes out. Just take a breath as you feel the words forming and let them go. Make your statement with no apology and no self-doubt.

Have you been passed over for choice projects or promotions?

This is the one where my moms well-intentioned advice can especially bite ya’ on the ass. Being a team player is a necessary part of working with others, but if you’re always taking a back seat when credit or praise rolls around then your boss will have a much harder time recognizing your efforts & contribution when it comes time to assign the best projects or even more importantly, when it’s time to negotiate a raise. As long as you’re not elbowing out your colleagues for their deserved praise, don’t be afraid to accept recognition for your contributions.

Anytime a woman speaks up for herself and asserts her right to be heard, there could be people who don’t like it.

But this is one of those times when you have to decide that being heard is better than blending in.