Between Submissiveness and Defensiveness: How To Walk The Middle Path Of Confidence

Have you ever worked with someone whose personality turned you into a yesman? Whether they meant to or not, they came on so strong that you felt bowled over, your boundaries evaporating?

I once found myself with a client with one of those personalities. A visionary, high on confidence but low on time he would swoop in to hand over a vision and then peace out. His employees struggled– I’d watch them do backwards flip flops to stay true to his vision–one that needed to adjust to the realities of implementation.

A few weeks into my contract with this client I was feeling a sense of unease deep in my gut. The 50,000 foot view I’d been handed didn’t suit the reality on the ground, and even more troubling, I’d leave every meeting with him feeling like I’d been run over.

Taking A Calm, Confident Stand

At our next call I took a deep breath and told myself, “You may have more years of experience than me, and be an expert in your field. I may not know as much as you but I am your intellectual equal.”

I knew if we didn’t adjust the project’s big aim we wouldn’t achieve our goals. So I steeled myself and confidently proposed how I thought we should do it differently and laid out my argument for why. There was no trepidation, no persuasion, just a calm explanation of why I thought his organization should use his resources differently to achieve his stated goal.

And you know what? It was a game-changing moment in our working relationship. To my surprise the client considered and then agreed with my suggestions. Even more importantly, from that day forward our relationship changed. Gone was the nervous, people-pleaser energy I’d brought into our interactions, and in its place was new mutual respect.

As I’ve written about previously, we’re often in situations in which we may not have the status, experience or prestige of those we interact with, but it’s essential that we go into these interactions with confidence and grace.

The Middle Path of Confidence

A lot of women struggle both with answering to authority–and with owning their own authority. We flip flop between submissiveness and defensiveness, as if waiting for someone to unmask us and prove that we shouldn’t have been invited to the table.

The thing is–whether we’re in a powerful position or not in any given situation, whether we’re insiders or outsiders, we can remind ourselves that what we do have is our sense of intelligence and inquiry, and we are entering into the conversation as full intellectual ‘citizens.’

In that way, we come to every conversation and subtle negotiation in emotional “neutral.” We come, not to defend our position or to people-please, but curious and ready to solve problems.

We may not know everything, we may not have the years of experience or specialized insight, but we come ready to participate and to grow by showing up fully.


I wrote this post originally for the Build Yourself+ workshop, a challenge-based empowerment workshop for women I founded and teach. For more on the workshop visit www.buildyourselfworkshop.com

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