Be assertive not aggresive

We live in a society that values confidence, charisma and vocality of ideas. A workable but well verbalized idea at times has a better chance of seeing the light of day than an expertly crafted plan that is sheepishly presented. When it comes to policy-making, curriculum structure, syllabus details, etc., effectively implementing pretty much anything in the realm of academics involves interacting with others and selling your ideas to students and other faculty.

When I studied for my math Ph.D. I was trained in the arts of thinking deeply and writing technical documents. I wasn’t trained in communicating effectively, standing up for myself, or facing strong opinions about academic policy that could influence the future of faculty members like me or the future of the college/university at large. At times, faculty dynamics can fall into this latter category (don’t be scared, not all the time!).

No matter how educated the academic crowd (terminal degrees!) we are still at risk of falling into personal or cultural traps when it comes to interpersonal dynamics.

Here are some tips that I have heard repeated by various women about acclimating to the realm of academics. I have been lucky to work in environments welcoming towards women, but I still find the advice here to be pretty valuable. As usual, “advice for women” is really advice for all. 🙂

If you’re being run over / interrupted / ignored in meetings, this can be difficult to combat directly. Maybe you can confront the issues directly and feel comfortable with that; when that’s an option you may want to pursue that as an option. But it’s not always an option. Another strategy is help foster a more collaborative environment overall.

  • Speak up when others have good ideas that you feel are not being properly considered.
  • Emphasize giving credit where credit is due.
  • By being a positive force in the room you can help to foster an environment of mutual respect and recognition.

Speaking up for others helps to foster a collegial and collaborative atmosphere.

Recommended Paraphrases:

  • “I’d like to go back to what so-and-so said.”
  • “The point you just made seems to coincide with the point made by so-and-so.”
  • “What you said seems to work well with the suggestions made by so-and-so.”

Quieter folk may have a lot to learn from others who are more gregarious, excitable, fluent with debate speech, etc.. Perhaps it is helpful to learn how to be forceful and aggressive at times. However, allowing a few people to control all the dynamic all the time is also a disservice to each other, to students, to the community at large, etc. !

Be assertive not aggressive.
Yes this is actually driving school advice, but it’s widely applicable! If you are looking to foster relationships with people you’ll work alongside for a whole career, learning to stand up for yourself and others is equally as important as learning not to run over your colleagues with aggression.

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