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Being told you're too assertive?


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May 10, 2013, 11:48pm   #1
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Would love to hear some opinions/advice on this one, especially from some of the older professional women here:

I am a mentor to a young lady who is very bright and intelligent. We both work in the financial analyst field (yay quants!). She has been working at her current job for a little over a year now, and she just had her first formal review a few weeks ago. 99% of the comments were extremely positive, for example, she is constantly praised for taking ownership of her work, being organized, having a great work ethic, learning things quickly, etc. But, the young lady is also very assertive. Think total type-A personality, the person who would be the group leader in any type of group project. This has apparently caused her to receive some feedback where she was told she sometimes comes across as "overconfident" for someone in her junior position. I don't think it's the situation where she isn't showing "proper deference" to the more senior people, but more like, people think that she speaks up maybe when she should wait for someone else to speak first, even if her answers are correct.

Due to the way our office is set up, I do not work directly with my mentee (so I'm never in a supervisory role over her), so I don't know how overblown some of the comments are, or whether there is a deeper issue here. I suppose I could go and ask some of the other senior folks informally, but I feel that that would just be drawing attention to the issue and make my mentee uncomfortable. In addition, she has not asked me to do that, so I'm not sure I feel 100% comfortable doing that anyway.

Any thoughts?
May 11, 2013, 12:58am   #2
ms-whitney's Avatar
shopaholic
I think one skill a lot of people forget is important, and often times hard for some people to manage is the ability to read people and act accordingly, using one's judgment and making calls based on that and if all above fails, learn to take criticism as constructive feedback and adjust accordingly without giving up the core of who you are.. Corny as that sounds

Some people might see assertiveness as a positive, others as your friend has found, sees it as a negative.

But to be honest if 99% of her review is glowing, I wouldn't worry too much about it if I were her..some managers are always going to have to give SOMETHING for you to work on

I bet you if she does do that, next year there will be something else, even if she gets a good pay hike or promotion, speaking from personal experience

I have met some managers who say they have nothing to say, nothing negative, or coworkers, but then others will butt in and come up with something, there is always something ;p

And to be honest, there always will be, like I told my dad sassy like (he's not much of a father but that's a long detour)-----if i knew everything there is to know then I wouldn't need to be in school.

And if I knew everything I think that's a good time to, um, pass..because life would just be boring knowing everything..and if you think I'm insufferable now..haha

:) just advise your friend to try and let the managers get their word in first, and then think of how brilliant she's gonna look if she has the right answer..and if they got it right in the first place then they got it right in the first place, there will be other times for her to shine and that moment that will define her career. Win the war not the battles
May 11, 2013, 6:18am   #3
d
zzz
Was she given examples?

I'd suggest she wait for a few seconds before jumping in with the answer, just to give others the opportunity to answer first.

It's cool that your company has a mentoring program.
May 11, 2013, 8:45am   #4
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Originally Posted by ms-whitney
I think one skill a lot of people forget is important, and often times hard for some people to manage is the ability to read people and act accordingly, using one's judgment and making calls based on that and if all above fails, learn to take criticism as constructive feedback and adjust accordingly without giving up the core of who you are.. Corny as that sounds

Some people might see assertiveness as a positive, others as your friend has found, sees it as a negative.

But to be honest if 99% of her review is glowing, I wouldn't worry too much about it if I were her..some managers are always going to have to give SOMETHING for you to work on

I bet you if she does do that, next year there will be something else, even if she gets a good pay hike or promotion, speaking from personal experience

I have met some managers who say they have nothing to say, nothing negative, or coworkers, but then others will butt in and come up with something, there is always something ;p

And to be honest, there always will be, like I told my dad sassy like (he's not much of a father but that's a long detour)-----if i knew everything there is to know then I wouldn't need to be in school.

And if I knew everything I think that's a good time to, um, pass..because life would just be boring knowing everything..and if you think I'm insufferable now..haha

:) just advise your friend to try and let the managers get their word in first, and then think of how brilliant she's gonna look if she has the right answer..and if they got it right in the first place then they got it right in the first place, there will be other times for her to shine and that moment that will define her career. Win the war not the battles
Thanks, that's some really helpful feedback to pass along. I like the idea of telling her to "win the war, not the battles."
May 11, 2013, 8:50am   #5
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Originally Posted by doreenjoy
Was she given examples?
I'm not sure if there were specific examples given to her at her review. She just said that the feedback had been overwhelmingly positive, but this was the one thing that they offered her "constructive criticism" about.

Originally Posted by doreenjoy
I'd suggest she wait for a few seconds before jumping in with the answer, just to give others the opportunity to answer first.
Yes, that's exactly what I told her when she came to discuss her review with me.

Originally Posted by doreenjoy
It's cool that your company has a mentoring program.
Agreed, I think it's awesome as well. I think part of it is due to the fact we have a high turnover/burn out rate in the industry, so the company wants to do what it can to retain its employees. It's a relatively new program that's only been around for less than 5 years though, so we're still working out the kinks. This is my first year being a mentor, too, so I'm a little new at all of this as well.
May 11, 2013, 9:25am   #6
lulilu's Avatar
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Originally Posted by doreenjoy
Was she given examples?

I'd suggest she wait for a few seconds before jumping in with the answer, just to give others the opportunity to answer first.

It's cool that your company has a mentoring program.
+1. Having recently witnessed a new person speaking first and appearing to assert herself where there were other more experienced people present, I admit I found it discomforting.
May 11, 2013, 9:28am   #7
fr2nc1z's Avatar
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From the description, it really doesn't sound like assertiveness. So, I really think they used the wrong words.

There is a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive. It sounds like the criticism is about her being aggressive when she is pursuing her ideas. A lot of people confuse the two. They think that in order to pursue your ideas, you need to be aggressive. That's not true.

Further, being aggressive does show a certain degree of disrespect towards her bosses or coworkers. She just needs to figure out how to be assertive without being aggressive.

I think it is a valid criticism. It doesn't mean that she needs to stop being assertive.
May 11, 2013, 10:04am   #8
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Originally Posted by lulilu
+1. Having recently witnessed a new person speaking first and appearing to assert herself where there were other more experienced people present, I admit I found it discomforting.
Can you elaborate on this more? Why did you find it discomforting? Was it because you didn't know the new person's background and/or experience?
May 11, 2013, 11:30am   #9
sharknbark's Avatar
Like a Sloth
I have to wonder if she'd have received this same critique from the head honchos if she were a man. I agree with the other posters about advising on carefully choosing her battles and to often give more experienced staff the time to comment first. That said, while senior staff members have the history/experience, new employees can sometimes bring a new/different perspective worth considering. So a long-winded way of saying she should dial it back 80-90% vs 100%.
May 11, 2013, 12:11pm   #10
t
Member
If it makes her feel any better, I have supervised younger people and I'd be willing to guess that her supervisors also have noticed her enthusiasm, and that's a good thing. :)

I do think it's cruel and unproductive when managers criticize employees about their personality traits. If they MUST do that, they should be prepared with concrete examples and advice. If they're not prepared to do that, they're being irresponsible.

And yes, men do get a lot more leeway about assertiveness than women do. But I wouldn't dare point it out, for fear of being seen as abrasive!
May 11, 2013, 12:59pm   #11
Allisonfaye's Avatar
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It is so hard to read without knowing the person and the culture. It COULD be sexism but then again, it could be her coming across as a know it all.
May 11, 2013, 2:08pm   #12
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Originally Posted by Allisonfaye
It is so hard to read without knowing the person and the culture. It COULD be sexism but then again, it could be her coming across as a know it all.
I'm not sure if it's sexism or something else. You're right that she could be coming off as a "know it all," although I'm pretty sure that's not what she is trying to do. I think she is just trying to be helpful, so she has a tendency to jump to answer if she knows it. But I can definitely see how some might view that as being a show-off of sorts.
May 11, 2013, 2:11pm   #13
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Originally Posted by sharknbark
I have to wonder if she'd have received this same critique from the head honchos if she were a man. I agree with the other posters about advising on carefully choosing her battles and to often give more experienced staff the time to comment first. That said, while senior staff members have the history/experience, new employees can sometimes bring a new/different perspective worth considering. So a long-winded way of saying she should dial it back 80-90% vs 100%.
Originally Posted by thbettina6
If it makes her feel any better, I have supervised younger people and I'd be willing to guess that her supervisors also have noticed her enthusiasm, and that's a good thing. :)

I do think it's cruel and unproductive when managers criticize employees about their personality traits. If they MUST do that, they should be prepared with concrete examples and advice. If they're not prepared to do that, they're being irresponsible.

And yes, men do get a lot more leeway about assertiveness than women do. But I wouldn't dare point it out, for fear of being seen as abrasive!
You both raise good points. I am not sure if she would receive the same feedback if she was a man, or if she was more senior, or what. It's difficult for me to give her advice on this situation because I don't know if the comments stem from her being new (and people not knowing her), being more junior (and thus people don't expect her to know the answer or think she wouldn't know the answer because they think she is inexperienced), or if it's more in-your-face because she's female rather than male.
May 11, 2013, 3:46pm   #14
d
zzz
Originally Posted by Allisonfaye
It is so hard to read without knowing the person and the culture. It COULD be sexism but then again, it could be her coming across as a know it all.
that's where I was going too.
May 11, 2013, 11:50pm   #15
julietdeltalima's Avatar
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Originally Posted by Morisa
You both raise good points. I am not sure if she would receive the same feedback if she was a man, or if she was more senior, or what. It's difficult for me to give her advice on this situation because I don't know if the comments stem from her being new (and people not knowing her), being more junior (and thus people don't expect her to know the answer or think she wouldn't know the answer because they think she is inexperienced), or if it's more in-your-face because she's female rather than male.
As a 14-year attorney, who, as such, is surrounded on all sides by very assertive people of both genders, I see young attorneys as falling generally into two groups: (1) those who recognize that the best way to advance in the profession is to learn as much as they can from senior folks and improve their competency as much as possible, and (2) those who think the best way to advance in the profession is to show senior folks that they're aggressive, hard-working go-getters. I am not interested in giving assignments to those in the second group, because I sense they are more interested in scoring political points than in doing good work. I suspect this is the impression your "mentee" (I so dislike that non-word! but it's sometimes unavoidable) has given off to someone. Assertiveness is great, but if it's not manifestly tempered with humility and gratitude, it's just arrogant obnoxiousness, irrespective of gender.
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