Why bossy shouldn’t be a negative term for women

Shyanne Belzer/MDN Nancy Pearson was among three speakers at the Women Connect session with the goal of teaching about and helping understand what "bossy" means for women.

When women try to be assertive and take the lead, many tend to decide they are “bossy” and the term, when put toward a woman, is rarely viewed as a compliment. Women are called bossy for the same traits that make many men considered a good leader and good boss.

Women Connect and the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce held an event on Feb. 20 for women in the community to attend called “Navigating the ‘B’ Word” where they spoke about the negativity around women who are called “bossy.” With three speakers, Nancy Pearson, Maggie Bohannon and Michelle Wall, the Women Connect session tackled topics such as “Understanding the ‘B’ Word” and “Raising Bossy Girls.”

Michelle Wall gave a list of traits that are considered “bossy.” Indicators of those who are bossy dictate orders and are controlling is they ignore other people’s perspectives, they can be rude and pushy, aggressive, micromanage, and more focused on authority or power than anything else.

For Maggie Bohannon, what this means is that when men show these indicators, they’re just being themselves and that is that. For women, they get coined as bossy or worse and it sticks, creating a negative view that can follow them and hinder their success.

Nancy Pearson is a retired communications professor from Minot State University. She used her connections there to conduct a survey on the word bossy for the session. What was found from students who took the survey was that females had a much more negative view on the word. Many described what came to mind when they read the word bossy as an angry, demanding woman. Even the males did so, with one jokingly saying his wife. What Pearson found was bossy almost always was tied negatively to females, regardless of which gender you asked.

“Words can be so powerful and have so much impact,” she said.

Maggie Bohannon, a counselor at The Village, had a similar message. There to talk about how to raise bossy girls, Bohannon said the best way to teach girls to be leaders and to have those skills is through modeling them yourself.

Bohannon said good traits to teach young children, not just girls, is it’s okay to feel emotions and to cry, to be vulnerable and to feel empathy. Self regulation is an important trait for everyone and learning how to regulate your emotions avoids holding them back or ignoring them, which can lead to many of the aggressive outbursts that can lead women to being seen as “bossy.” For Bohannon, changing how women are perceived as when they’re called bossy starts with accepting your emotions and learning to tell those around you how you feel, especially when it comes to frustration.

The final speaker, Michelle Wall, is a business coach. She started with the idea that everyone has their own personal story, their own personal feelings, and everyone always feels like they have to do everything on their own and take charge. For her, to beat bossy, women need to be more self aware.

“At the head of bossy is a lack of interpersonal leadership skills,” said Wall.

A solution for her to avoid the negativity of bossy is to go to the situation and follow some simple steps to gain the important relationships, especially in a work sense, that will help people follow the leadership and see it as less bossy. Wall said to build trust, gain cooperation, and then lead. Every interaction is important and can lead to an interpersonal leadership skills.

“Bossy comes out from skipping steps. If people feel and are engaged, they will follow and be willing to cooperate,” Wall said,

She also said it is important to teach, help and let them do it themselves. Don’t micromanage and do everything. It’s important to learn from others and teach. Holding onto everything and not letting others do their stuff or help will lead to frustrations, miscommunication, and negative results.

Wall also pushed the idea it is important to see things from other perspectives than just your own. It leads to more empathy and understanding.

The negativity around the “b” word can really cause negative reactions for women who are in leadership roles, but there are ways to avoid it.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)