Expert advice to help you handle workplace danger.

I’ve spent a large part of my career feeling uncertain how exactly to ‘do’ assertiveness, focussing too intently on being ‘nice’ and unthreatening – or else swinging too far the other way and being too hard when I was a boss. But having been the victim of school bullies, I’ve never known how to negotiate my way around pushy people. In fact, at times I think I’ve invited bullying behaviour just by not being comfortable with expressing my own thoughts out loud. “If you’ve been bullied in your life, whether at school or at work, it’s more likely to happen again,” says gravitas expert Antoinette Dale Henderson. “You’re likely to go into self-preservation or victim mode. In this way you almost attract the bullies because you expect it to happen – so you don’t behave assertively”.

Whether or not you were bullied as a child, office life can be a minefield. An incredible 4.3 million people in the UK are unhappy at work, being set impossible goals, overworked and bullied by bosses and other colleagues, leading to major stress and anxiety. In Antoinette’s book Power Up: The Smart Woman’s Guide To Unleashing Her Potential, she shares practical advice on how to become more resilient and assertive. Here are a few of her key tips on owning ourselves – instead of getting owned…

Set boundaries
“Women often focus on like-ability at the expense of respect. For many, it’s more important to please people and make everything OK over their own needs and wants. Practice setting boundaries, disagreeing when you need to, giving challenging feedback and showing your grit and determination, even if that means displeasing some people”.

Get used to negative comments
“Developing resilience to negativity is important so you neither go into fight, flight or freeze mode when someone puts you or your ideas down. If you become aggressive, that’s goading them to respond. If you run away instead of standing your ground you’re not retaining your dignity. And if you make like a rabbit in headlights, you’re inviting the behaviour to continue. Practice standing up for yourself in a measured, unemotional and assertive way”.

Develop a thick skin
“Sometimes we need to decide it’s OK for people not to like us and to swim willingly into troubled waters. I used to think that conflict was a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs. The trouble is, when we do this, we are compromising our own thoughts, feelings, wants and needs and putting those of the other person first. And this, of course, gives them power. So don’t be afraid to rattle cages.”

Change the record
“If we’ve been told repeatedly in childhood to pipe down and shut up, we grow up believing that what we have to say is of no value – or that no one will listen. This can get in the way of being assertive. If we act from a weak position, we’ve given those voices from the past permission to censor our present opinions. It’s time to ignore those voices – for good. As Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent’.”

Get in the driving seat
“When you’re in charge of your own life, you are no longer passive but the one responsible for moving in the right direction. So, instead of moaning that your boss overworks you, you realise that you’re allowing yourself to be over-worked, either by saying ‘yes’ too often or not saying ‘no’ often enough. Approach your work in a different way and have the assertiveness and self-confidence to flag up when you’re stacked. If you don’t get the response you need, let the negative comments slide off you. Remember: you can always leave.”

Words Marina Gask

Power Up: The Smart Woman’s Guide To Unleashing Her Potential is available here. Antoinette’s TEDx Talk: Gender Equality: The New Power Dynamic is available here.