NEWSLETTER | WOMEN MOTION
Key to Assertiveness: Be Prepared!
“One of the biggest lessons I have learnt in business is to always be prepared. If you do not speak with the necessary authority, not even assertiveness will be able to bring your point across effectively,” says Annalie Lerm, Manager: Sales and Business of Toyota South Africa.
She is adamant that especially in the male-dominated arenas, like the motoring industry, one has to do your homework at least 30% better than any male colleague would have done, and stand by your viewpoint, without being unnerved.
Professional and in control
Lerm, who started her career as a teacher, says that even back then she worked with a range of people, from the kids to their parents, which taught her how to remain professional under all circumstances, without reacting emotionally. “After that, my experience in assertiveness was extended in my first position
in the corporate world, working for KWV, where I was dealing predominantly with male farmers. I recall one farmer realising he made an error, but still lashing out at me to hide his embarrassment. I remained friendly, yet firm. From there on I made a conscious effort to always be in control of the situation,” she says. “By remaining in control, you will get the respect and trust that you deserve. You will sometimes still be confronted by an attitude of ‘You are a woman, what do you know?’ But I have learnt from that to be persistent in order to get their buy-in,” Lerm adds.
Develop a thick skin
As it is her 16th year in the motor industry, she says that she has developed a thick skin. Lerm says she is not afraid of conflict and keeps a cool face in any given situation. “Being a woman, my emotions do sometimes creep up, but I have learnt to control it to the extent that I can wait until I can go for a drive in my car or be alone to cry. Women should never cry in a meeting or lose their cool, as people lose respect for you. If you have to cry, cry behind closed doors,” she advises. Lerm says that it will be advantageous to have a trustworthy female acquaintance as a soundboard during your career. But she has experienced that strong women (and even men) often see other strong women as a threat and pull each other down to hide their own uncertainty.
“The downside to assertiveness is abrasiveness. Businesswomen sometimes become unpleasant, trying too hard to convey their messages. You are in a man’s world, but you are still a woman and have to depend on yourself. As soon as you become abrasive, you have lost your battle, as you immediately have all people on their back feet,” Lerm warns. She elaborates that businesswomen definitely achieve more positive effects with assertiveness. Assertiveness could, in most cases, persuade the receiver of your message to change his or her attitude in a positive way. “The downside to developing a thick skin and being assertive for a big period of the day is that one has to consciously watch for it not to take over your personal life. There you can still be assertive, but to a lesser extent,” Lerm concludes.
by Ronel Nel