Yesterday, I came across the Pantene commercial portraying the differences between women and men in business settings. This commercial, which ran in Southeast Asia last year, illustrated how the strong qualities in men (ie. directness, assertiveness, workaholic nature, etc) are perceived as weaknesses when women possess those same qualities (ie. aggressiveness, defensiveness, and selfishness). It’s a relevant commercial that received much acclaim and shared widely in social media.
As I think about the feedback I’ve gotten from people around me over the last few years– from friends, coworkers, managers, etc– I see the differences in how they perceive me. My friends and family see assertive actions as strengths, and modest actions as examples of humility, while my manager would see both types of actions as weaknesses. I’ve been told that I’m too defensive and have a strong personality that people don’t know how to handle, and that I need to develop more confidence at work– in the same meeting no less. When asked for examples, my manager cannot give one on the spot.
When you get feedback like this, do you dial down assertiveness, or do you further demonstrate it? Should I speak up more for to be “perceived” as having more confidence, or should I be more accommodating to be perceived as having a gentler personality?
I think there are situations that calls for being assertive, and I try to play that role when the situation arise, and there are also times when I may seem more modest depending on the context in which I’m placed. All of us are like this, because we balance multiple sides of ourselves on an on-going basis. Where we’re caught in the middle is when we’re given such conflicting feedback, where there is a direct attack on our traits, rather than being mentored to better understand the situations that require the demonstration of a given trait.
Ultimately, I think it is up to us to choose how to act in a given situation. People around us may tell us to tuck in our weaknesses and show more strength, but when our strengths are construed as weaknesses, we must stand our ground and further demonstrate that the weaknesses others see in us are actually are greatest assets. First, we must learn to be honest with ourselves and determine if our traits that others perceive as negative are harming others, and if they do, we must transform them into more positive ones. Second, we must weigh if the feedback is coming from someone who has our best interest at heart, or if criticism is being used as an attempt to place us in a position that will garner them political gains. Lastly, we must show the world everyday how our perceived weaknesses can be judged as a strength that is in line with the shared direction of the relationship, whether it be with our employers, coworkers or friends and families.
People around us will always tell us what to do, but in the end it is up to us to take their feedback or do a better job to illustrate that their criticism of us is misinformed. I’ve been blessed to be self-aware and reflective enough to know how others are perceiving me, and everyday I try my best to transform my weaknesses into demonstrable strengths. There have been many times when I’ve failed, but it is an iterative process, and I try again everyday, and I can say that this same process has contributed to my successes, my professional growth, and has extended to personal development in my own life.