I am a young woman of small build. I also give off the impression of being 'Ms Perfect' for the fact that I take care of my appearance and weight. I'm also ambitious.

I find I am constantly being 'dominated', to put it mildly, and bullied in worse case scenarios.

I'm sure a lot of this is because of my appearance, size and the fact that I'm softly spoken. I'm always called a 'lady' or a 'gentle lady' which is something I'm proud of and want to be, but I guess I've not learned how to own it.

I don't want this to come across as I'm a pushover - I'm certainly not. In fact when I do stand up for myself I get called aggressive, ruining group morale, communication difficulties etc.

e.g. Colleagues (especially women) ask me to the point of interrogation - what did you eat today, what did you eat yesterday, what are you having for lunch etc because I'm slim, and then I overhear them saying I have an eating disorder. This infuriates me and I get incredibly prickly! I don't know how to deal with it. I wish they would leave me alone.

Colleagues think I'm stupid because of the way I look, despite the fact I am in some cases better qualified, and a better performer. They patronise and undermine my work, make snide comments, etc. It is impossible to fight back, before being called a problem.

It may come as no surprise that women are the worst at this.

I find it exhausting dealing with negative vibes constantly.

How can I deal with situations like this assertively, and earn the respect of my colleagues without being seen as aggressive?

  • 4
    Hi there Sally101! This question may be better suited for the Interpersonal Skills Stack interpersonal.stackexchange.com
    – uR2die4
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 5:04
  • 4
    Projecting confidence or assertiveness regardless of your build is indeed more of a personal skill. On this site about all the advice we could give is "show your work" and "find a less toxic workplace". Try the other site linked by @uR2die4.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 7:40
  • 1
    You only have to impress the boss, not everyone in the office. If others are undermining your work, then bring it up to your boss. If your boss is the source, then either quit or go with HR.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    I disagree that this is off topic. It's not uncommon to present a "work persona" that's different from your everyday personality, and (to me at least) projecting confidence in the workplace is quite a different skill from being confident around personal friends or family. This question has already attracted one useful answer, and has the potential to generate further workplace-related advice that will be useful to the OP and to others. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 8:44

2 Answers 2


I am a small, softly spoken, very petite woman (5'3) who is the tech lead for my company, so I can speak with some experience here :)

Assertiveness has its place in the workplace, but it's competence that people pay attention to. Ignore the petty comments about your appearance, what you wear, and get in and do your job to the best of your ability. I have done this for over 20 years and these days I rarely need to be assertive because I have built the confidence of those above and below me in the food chain of my capabilities.

Remember, when surrounded by unprofessional people, be the professional. Office politics and sniping become ineffective when you consistently demonstrate capacity and competence. I work will nearly all males and they listen and respect me as a professional, and my being a woman half the size of many of them is largely irrelevant :)

  • 3
    +1 for remaining professional regardless of the antics around you. It makes your character shine that much more. On different note, many people have a hard time finding the line between "assertive" and "aggressive". We all have our own style and we are more effective when we use our strengths instead of trying to imitate someone else's strength. I have worked for a manager that had "woo" and one that didn't have any "woo" at all. They were both very effective, they just had different ways of accomplishing the same thing.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 12:59

I can not speak to a solution outside of the workplace, because it is different. To be honest, some people you meet in life are just plain a**holes and looking to feel superior over someone. You are a soft spoken (when unprovoked), small, woman and this can be seen as a target for those people. I can tell you in my workplace, you would be a welcome addition. And so it greatly depends on the culture of your company.

But, I do not suggest to pretend to be someone you are not. I'll play devils advocate and say that IF you try to go against your character, those same people will call you "fake" and the "b" word. These people are unprofessional and a**holes and you should treat them as such. Do not take that from anyone.

Absolutely stand your ground when you are confident in your ideas, endeavors etc. Challenge people on their ideas when appropriate. The person who is the most quiet is the one I usually listen to when stuff goes sideways because they are calm and collected, as you are.

Understand that this is most likely a company culture issue, and not a YOU issue. As always, escalate any further problems to your boss if it starts to really affect you. Good luck!

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .