Are you feeling stressed out? Frustrated?

Well, one reason for that might be because your needs aren’t being met.

And… you’re not being assertive about them.

Assertiveness and Emotional Intelligence training are two important pillars of my Elevate leadership accelerator for women, and for a good reason: we, women, often feel an emotion, e.g. frustrated, disappointed, ignored, insulted, and, since we don’t like conflict, we talk ourselves out from expressing ourselves in a genuine and authentic way. What happens next is that our feelings don’t go away, they grow and often come out in passive-aggressive or other ways. (Does it resonate, anyone?)

I pulled out one fun and easy exercise to help you bridge the gap between what you think and what you say, and to be more assertive.

Let me give you a couple of examples first:

Example 1: “Ugh, my boss totally ignores me during our staff meetings. I wish I knew how to confront him about it.”

Example 2: “My direct report keeps missing deadlines, but I have no idea how to give him feedback on it.”

See the pattern? These women (real Elevate clients) have thoughts swirling in their heads but struggle to express them out loud.

“The left-hand column exercise” is a simple yet effective way to close the gap between your thoughts and your words.

Here’s how it works:

Think about one frustrating situation at work.

  • Grab a pen and paper (or use digital tool) and create two columns.
  • In the left column, jot down what you were thinking and feeling (unstated thoughts.)
  • In the right column, write down what you actually said (stated communication..

Let me give you an example:

Left Column (Your Thoughts/Emotions): “I feel ignored by my boss during our client meetings. I don’t know what’s going but I don’t like it. I wonder if I should address this with him.”

Right Column (Your Words): “Hey Olivier, I am sorry but I won’t be able to attend tomorrow’s meeting due to the scheduling clash.”

The distance above is huge between what one feels and what one says (eg avoidant or passive-aggressive behaviour.)

Once you’ve filled in the columns, take a moment to reflect:

  • How big is the gap between your thoughts and your communication?
  • What’s causing this gap? Is it fear? Lack of confidence?
  • What’s one baby step or risk you can take to shrink this gap?

Just imagine how your life would improve if you closed this gap regularly. 🙂

I’ll let you in on a little secret I share with my coaching clients: aligning your thoughts with your words is what great leaders do. It demonstrates your leadership presence so much more than anything else, and it’s also happens to be an act of self-care.

And sometimes, as a manager and rising leader, you just have to say it plain and simple: “I need you to do this” or “I need you to stop doing that.”

Holding back can be disservice not just to you but also to your team, manager and company.

So, practice saying what’s on your mind, and do it with kindness.

You’ve got this!

PS Below are three examples of shrinking the distance between your emotions/thoughts and your words. Adapted from Ali Merchant.