Six ways women can banish self-doubt and stop feeling they’re the weakest link

1 Mar

Women should play to their strengths.

I never thought I’d be taking assertiveness tips from Anne Robinson, the acerbic presenter of The Weakest Link, with a reputation for being the Queen of Mean. She has made a career out of her formidable demeanour and her ferocious putdowns –and she was delighted when, a decade ago, she was voted the rudest woman on TV.

I’ve never been sure whether to admire or abhor her. However, I will admit that I’m fascinated by her complete disregard for what people think of her. Apologetically adapting our opinions and behaviours to suit other people can lead to personal and professional paralysis for women – and I think there’s a lot to learn from women like Anne who are confident and unrepentant about the choices they’ve made in life.

That’s why I have identified six behaviours that she discussed in her interview on Mark Lawson talks to… Anne Robinson on BBC4 that may be helpful to women in their quest to be more assertive:

1. Stand up for yourself: Whatever you do, don’t run crying to the loos every time someone says something you don’t like. Whether it’s mild sexual innuendo, covert criticism, or overt bullying, Anne says ridicule is the best form of defence. She said: “I despair of women who don’t accept that the workplace is treacherous, and who don’t handle themselves very well. If I come back in another life, I’ll do classes for clever women so they don’t constantly feel hurt and upset.” Referring to her experience working in the male-dominated world of journalism in the 1960s, when they used to say ‘we’re sending the bird down’ (and Anne was ‘the bird’), she said: “I didn’t spend a lot of time being upset, and I didn’t spend any time crying… Women have got to be ready to cope with someone being a bully, and say: ‘Don’t speak to me like that.’ Or ridicule them; ridicule is by far the best weapon.”

2. Put yourself first: Advice from Anne’s mother was to ‘have a facial once a month’. What Anne interpreted this to mean is to look after yourself and look the best you possibly can. It’s sometimes far too easy to believe that, with the weight of many responsibilities on our shoulders, that taking some ‘me-time’ is somehow selfish and self-indulgent. The other side of this particular coin is that, without taking time to cater for your own needs, then how can you possibly have anything to give in a personal or professional environment. This can just lead to resentment – or, in Anne’s words: “Put yourself first. If you don’t, you become a victim.”

3. Be honest with yourself: This particular trait may be unique to Anne Robinson, who talks candidly and unashamedly about her alcoholism, her failed marriages, and how she lost custody of her daughter. For someone in the public eye, it can be helpful to have any dirty linen aired outside, to make it pointless for people to come snooping inside. She referenced the infamous quote ‘you’re only as sick as your secrets’ – but I take it to mean that it’s better to take an honest inventory of yourself, rather than pretending to be, say and do something you’re not.

4. Believe in your talents: Seek out people who will affirm and support you, not people who belittle, ignore or override you. Anne was blessed with a mother who always told her she could achieve whatever she wanted. “If someone says ‘you are the most talented person in the world’ every day until you’re 16, it’s quite effective,” said Anne. Today, that’s more likely to be known as the power of positive affirmation. Whether you believe in affirmations or not, thinking positively and constructively about what you can achieve has to be more effective than putting yourself down (or allowing others to do so).

5. Don’t automatically agree with people’s assumptions: On two occasions in the BBC4 interview, Anne asked the interviewer to qualify his question. The first was when he questioned her about having had “a lot” of cosmetic surgery. She replied: “What do you mean by a lot?” And when asked whether she’d been subject to any sexual harassment while working with Robert Maxwell, she asked: “How would you define that?” She refused to be bowed by someone else’s judgement of her, didn’t get jittery or answer nervously to a presumptuous line of questioning, and stood her ground assertively.

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously: Anne may have a fierce persona on TV, but she has made that work for her. She can laugh at her early TV performances on Question Time, where she wasn’t as forthright as she is today, and admit that being good on TV is something she worked on over time (by being on TV, not by running away and hiding because one of her first performances wasn’t that great). And she kept her now infamous wink, which she had initially been advised to ditch, and which is now as recognisable as her catchphrase: “You’re the weakest link. Goodbye.”

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