Sometimes We All Need to Put On Our “Big Girl Pants.” Here’s How.

Not long ago, I got a voice message from one of my Live Bright Now clients, a female CEO named Joanne. “I need to put on my big girl pants,” she said. “Can we talk?” Turns out Joanne had an upcoming video conference with one of her male counterparts in Europe about running their global business team. Based on previous interactions with her colleague, Joanne knew he was stubborn and had a sizable ego. For his part, he felt like she had unrealistic expectations for the team. For Joanne, “big girl pants” was code for holding her ground and staying firm when asking for what her team needed.

I was so happy that Joanne wanted to strategize ahead of time about her meeting. No one likes having hard conversations, and it’s human nature to avoid conflict when we can. Cultural differences can make things even more complicated.

Fierce, not ferocious, boundaries

The strategies I shared with Joanne are rooted in something I call setting “fierce boundaries.” If you’ve ever practiced Tai Chi, you know what it’s like to channel your internal power to help you hold a strong external stance. Setting fierce boundaries helps you create an invisible protective boundary. It’s an opportunity to be fierce without being ferocious.

Another analogy? Think of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This tiny, brilliant woman’s strength of purpose was far more powerful than her physical presence. When you hone your internal fortitude, you become full of force, which, as RBG showed us time and again, is entirely different than being forceful.

Here are a few ideas I shared with Joanne about her challenging call. By the way, these strategies can help cool down a heated situation both at work or during a personal interaction.

  1. Prepare. Joanne was smart to plan ahead for a potentially fraught meeting. She spent time considering what outcomes she was trying to achieve and what success would look like for her (and her reports) if the call went well. She also reminded herself that if she wasn’t able to clearly convey her plans and strategies during the meeting, the future of her international business team could be in jeopardy.

During our call, my immediate goal was to help Joanne successfully navigate the upcoming meeting. Yet something bigger was at stake. Learning how to set fierce boundaries would enable Joanne to ask for what was needed, stand her ground, and transform a negative, stressful situation into a positive opportunity whenever the need arose.

Before we ended our conversation, I wished Joanne luck. But now that she was ready to put on her “big girl pants,” I was confident she wouldn’t need it.

P.S. A couple of weeks after our conversation, Joanne left me another voice message. As we’d discussed, she’d given her colleague a head’s up about her expectations for their call. He’d responded by becoming first “very quiet” and then defensive. In subsequent conversations, he even lashed out a couple of times, but Joanne held her ground. Slowly but surely, she told me, their meetings were becoming more respectful, collegial, and productive. Joanne was optimistic about their ability to work together as global team leaders.

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Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a bright company culture creates bright leaders + bright communities — even a brighter world.



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Candra Canning

Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a br