Speak Up Without Apologizing With Ivna Curi

by | Sep 8, 2022 | Podcasts

SWGR 120 | Speak Up


How we communicate with others not only influences how they react to us, but it shapes how people perceive us. And even when we have the purest of intentions, we can easily be misconstrued because of how our message or request is delivered. So how do we make sure that we communicate effectively? Ivna Curi, CEO and founder of AssertiveWay.com, talks about the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. She also shares insights on how assertiveness and owning your achievements play into being taken seriously and respected and being able to contribute at a higher capacity. So tune in and find out how to achieve your goals personally and professionally and learn to speak your mind unapologetically.

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Speak Up Without Apologizing With Ivna Curi

We are talking to Ivna Curi of AssertiveWay.com, but before I get into the description of Ivna, who’s a very interesting person, I’d like to invite you to see where you are strong with your presentation skills and maybe not. You can take our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and helping you and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.

Ivna Curi does very much what I do. She helps women speak up and be assertive rather than aggressive. She is the CEO and Founder of AssertiveWay.com, which is a company designed to help organizations advance professional women by training them on how to speak up with assertive communication without coming across as aggressive or difficult to help them be taken seriously, be respected, and contribute at a higher capacity.

Ivna’s company provides talks, experiential workshops, and trainings both online and in person. She has an MBA from INSEAD, that’s the French School of Management. It’s the most leading business school outside the USA. She also has an Electrical Engineering degree. She’s a Forbes contributor. She has lived, worked, and managed teams around the world on 4 of the 7 continents, from Fortune 500 companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, AT Kearney, and Etihad Airways.

She also gets excited about hiking, interior design, and experiencing difficult cultures. What I love about learning about Ivna is that she is full of great specific advice and concrete suggestions on what you can do to claim your power, be more assertive, and rise in your organization. You’ll enjoy this conversation. Here comes Ivna Curi.

Ivna Curi, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me.

I’m so glad you and I talk about very much the same thing in a slightly different language. I thought this would be fun for us to trade ideas, tips, and things like that. First of all, though, I’d like to ask you who would be your dream interview. If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?

When I was a small girl, I loved scientists. I wanted to be a scientist myself. I read some bios of famous scientists and I identified with Albert Einstein.


Initially, it was because of his science, but over the years, I realized that he did a lot of work around in thinking and writing, around human thinking, problem-solving, humanity, and speaking up as well and that right to be able to express your thoughts and ideas. I thought it was generally very empowering and also aligned with what I teach.

What would you ask him?

Assertiveness is not aggressive. It's very powerful, strong, respectful, and even caring, but most people don't understand that. Click To Tweet

I would ask him what he would recommend that people do because he went through a period of war where you couldn’t speak up and talk about science. It was very challenging to bring some of those topics up. There was a lot of discrimination. I would ask him, what would you recommend for those people who feel discriminated or if they speak up and they express their thoughts, they might experience backlash like he did and many others did during his time?

You have a wonderful podcast called Speak Your Mind Unapologetically and I love that. You give out these tips all the time. They’re very useful and very constructive. I’ve learned a few things from you. First, I’d like to ask you how you got from Brazil, where you were born, to the Middle East, to America, in a corporate job, to finally working for yourself to help women learn how to speak up?

It was a journey. I wanted to be a great engineer and scientist. When I was a young girl in Brazil, I managed to get myself into the top engineering school, which is the Institute of Aeronautics of Brazil. It’s linked to the Air Force area. From there, I had the opportunity and the exposure to see that a couple of people were getting some opportunities abroad.

As the school is relatively well known in Brazil, I decided then to look for an opportunity abroad as well. We did have some people that studied in the school that had opportunities in different countries and there was a position in the US at the time of Johnson & Johnson, the consumer goods headquarters and I got the job.

That started my international exploration. From there, I went on to study in Singapore and France at INSEAD. From there, I took a job in the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I spent a couple of years there. UAE is a wonderful place because it’s incredibly multicultural. You work with people from all over the world. It challenges your thinking around what is right and wrong because you get so much exposure.

I met my husband there and we decided to come back to the US. I started to think about what I wanted out of my career because back during my MBA, I had already defined what I wanted and what I was passionate about. I wanted to create a school for life skills that most people did not learn at school, from their parents or employers, or even from universities. There were so many of these life skills that I wish I had learned. I thought that would make life so much better rather than some of these very specific things that we learned.

I thought, “What is the one life skill that would have made the biggest difference in my life, but that would also have helped a lot of the people that I worked with that I mentored and my staff in the past?” That’s when I came up with assertiveness. What’s brilliant about it is that I knew what assertiveness was because I had a wonderful mentor and boss early in my career who taught me exactly how to be assertive and you showed me that it wasn’t aggressive. He was my role model. He was the most assertive boss and mentor that I ever had.

SWGR 120 | Speak Up

Speak Up: We need to understand how assertiveness differs from aggressiveness and how to implement it in a way that feels right for them, which can be highly empathetic, warm, considerate, and caring.


It’s wonderful when you have a role model and you see that it’s not aggressive but powerful, strong, respectful, and even caring. Most people don’t understand that, so I’m bringing that to the world and helping clarify and explain exactly what assertive is, how it works, and how it can help improve people’s lives, especially women’s careers.

That is what takes me to my next question. I love that you reframe it as assertive. Often, women are thought to be aggressive when we stand up for ourselves. When we speak our mind and truth, that gets in the way of being promoted because people say, “She’s great, but she’s pushy. I don’t think we want her in the department. We don’t think we want her at that level.” How can women be assertive and deal with the backlash of people saying that’s too aggressive?

As women, we do need to think about that as it is a reality. We know from several studies that there’s a likability penalty for women when they are what people call too assertive, but there’s no such thing as too assertive. What I mean is too pushy or aggressive. Often when we think of an assertive woman, we think of that difficult, “I’m going to go and take over. It’s all about what I say. You listen to me and I’m powerful,” but that’s not the case.

The first thing is that women need to understand what assertiveness is and how it differs from aggressiveness. Second, learn to implement assertiveness in a way that feels right for them, which can be highly empathetic, very warm, considerate, and caring. These are not exclusive. It can be both. Highly assertive, warm, caring, and considerate. That is the best combination for women and women leaders.

How do you define the difference between assertive and aggressive?

This is incredibly important for the audience to hear both men and women, but especially women. Assertiveness is the skill of communicating what you need, want, thoughts, likes, dislikes, and boundaries. How do you feel negotiating and communicating anything that you need to communicate in a way that is entirely respectful, calm, and effective because there’s no point in saying stuff and then not getting any results from it? At the end of the day, when you communicate assertively, you have an expectation that somebody is going to change their thinking, behaviors, or how they interact with you. That requires influence and that’s why this is a skill. Being aggressive is about expressing yourself in a way that is disrespectful.

Respectful versus disrespectful.

When you're aggressive, you're attempting to control other people. Click To Tweet

When you’re aggressive, you’re attempting to control other people. Your goal is to get them to do what you want them to do in a controlling way. It’s very different than assertiveness because assertiveness is about controlling your own behavior, what you say, and how you act. It is no longer about the other person. It’s about you and how you stand in this situation. If you do well, you have a high chance of influencing other people, but when I say influence, that’s a key word here.

You’re not forcing them to do things and manipulating them to do things. You’re giving them freewill to do, to collaborate, to be part of what you want them to be, or however you want them to respond to your assertiveness statement, or what you say, where you communicate, but again, it’s up to them and you’re giving them full freedom to respond as they’d like, but you’re controlling yourself. You’re maximizing your chances of success by communicating the effect of the end respectfully.

This is a great way to think of it. I always think of using the word enrolling somebody, like getting them to sign up to go along with you and your idea for what you want them to do. There will be pushback. How can we deal with pushback without being destroyed by it or obsessing about it?

I love the idea of enrolling and I usually talk about inviting people to your side, which is the same thing. When you do your job and learn how to be assertive, it’ll greatly minimize conflict and pushback, especially when you do it in an empathetic way and you add the warmth element. You build the relationship beforehand, you need to do all those things in you, add layers of kindness, listening, and validation and all those things during your speaking up moment, but let’s say they do push back after all of that, it could happen. When people push back and it’s in your interest that they listen to you, then you’ve got to assess, “Is this worth going after?” This is going to be a little bit of an investment in time.

Is it worth pursuing?

In certain situations, you might say, “This is not worth pursuing. This company culture is not worth staying in. This boss is not worth working for. This relationship is not worth being in or investing in,” and you choose to walk away. That’s perfectly fine. In other situations, we can’t run away all of our lives from problems. Sometimes if the issue is small compared to all the other positive things that are going on, it’s best to deal with it.

I usually encourage people to try to deal with it before they give up. Dealing with it again goes back to those foundational principles of assertiveness, where you need to build a little bit on that relationship part and then try again. Maybe slightly differently, but me to giving it a bit more of the listening, the acknowledgment, and showing people that you here understand where they’re coming from and then try again. Sometimes you need to try multiple times. Sometimes you may need to try with somebody else.

SWGR 120 | Speak Up

Speak Up: Speak up unapologetically and in a way that’s respectful because then you know that you’re doing and acting in a positive way.


Get somebody else to tell them.

Get someone else to help you get through your messaging. Don’t give up.

Often when someone is pushing back, it might be a reflex. If you can catch them afterward, get them alone in private, and say, “Do you realize that you undercut me in that conversation or meeting? Did you recognize that you did it?” Often, it’s a habit. I was having a conversation this morning about centuries of keeping women in a lesser role or a role where you needed to be protected by men because, for many centuries, women had to be protected by men.

That was the way the world worked and that our business culture is evolving, but it worked for the White men of power for a long time. Changing society is like turning a cruise ship. You can only do it a little bit at a time and locally work with the people that you work with. This leads me to another comment that you made. The next question is about bias and how we can recognize the bias in ourselves that keeps us quiet.

I love that you said that let’s recognize the bias in ourselves, not with others. If you take the example of pushback, sometimes, for a lot of women, our first response to pushback or someone’s treating us in a way that we don’t believe they should treat us, that we feel is wrong or disrespectful is, “They’re being rude. I have no fault in this. There’s nothing I did here that caused this. It’s all about the other person and them lacking character.” We also assume that they’re never going to change and that they want to attack us, make our life difficult, make things difficult for us, and limit our success.

This is a story that we can tell ourselves that we can get lost in and then convince ourselves because we’ve told ourselves that story. I’ve been there. Believe me.

I’ve told myself many stories. A quick example, I was in this job and I wanted more exposure in meetings with senior leadership. I wasn’t doing the work, but then my boss would go and present it. I was invisible and I wanted that visibility. My first reaction was, “No boss wants their employee to go to these meetings. He wants to keep power. I probably shouldn’t even ask.”

Assertiveness is about controlling your own behavior, what you say and how you act. It is no longer about the other person. Click To Tweet

I spent months without asking and agonizing and then I started telling myself another story. “What an inconsiderate boss. He doesn’t even want to help me grow. How bad is that?” It’s completely made up. Luckily, I came to my senses eventually. Let me try asking him the question and see what happens. I tried in that meeting that I had scheduled to talk about this, took over, and started talking about business as usual. I’m going to start telling myself another story. “There you go. That’s proven evidence that he is, in fact, a bad manager and doesn’t want me to take his power. He’s scared of me taking over.”

He’s being self-protective. Some time went by and I said, “Maybe I’m wrong. Let me try again.” I had another conversation with him and I followed up maybe once or twice. He said, “Ivna, that’s a brilliant idea. In fact, I’m planning on leaving this job at this company in the next year or so. I’m going to start putting you into these meetings.” Eventually, he did. He put me to lead meetings with his superiors, then left and I took over.

Much of it is awareness of how we talk to ourselves and if we’re angry with someone. The truth is they don’t realize they said that hurtful thing. It was habit or they’re not intentionally blocking you. They’re focused on other things and it hasn’t occurred to them that you’re over there wishing unless you say something. That’s where you speak up in an assertive way, unapologetically.

Also, in a way that’s respectful. You’ll know then that you’re acting in a positive way and you won’t regret speaking up.

That brings me to another question. You did a wonderful podcast episode. I recommend everybody check out Ivna’s podcast is full of all sorts of great information. You did a good one the other day about why women don’t get the credit in a team which fundamentally is because you’re not giving too much credit to the team and no credit to yourself. It’s something I talk about a lot. How can you recognize the bias where women are not getting credit or getting more blame and then do something about it? You said something about the survey.

There was a survey that looked at what was happening around group or collaborative projects where there were men and women. The World Economic Forum did a study with several companies in groups of women and men working together towards a goal or project and collaborating. The women consistently did not get recognized for the work that was done. The successes were credited to the men, but the failures were credited disproportionately to the women. This was a big problem because, clearly, that’s a losing proposition for women.

It keeps you from rising from building your brand and visibility and from rising in your organization or in your industry.

SWGR 120 | Speak Up

Speak Up: When you’re focused on explaining your contributions in terms of numbers and economic outcomes, you start to drive your decision-making around where you want to invest your time.


What’s most funny is that women tend to be more collaborative than men. In collaborative work, they get penalized. The reason is there is this bias. The biases are happening, but there’s a lot more than that. There are certain things that women can do to deal with this. Part of it is that there’s a bias that exists. Often, men do get recognized more than women, but another big part is that men own their accomplishments and they’ll do a lot much better job of self-promoting and showing their own individual contributions within a group setting.

By owning your accomplishment, that means saying, “Yes, indeed. I did this. This is an accomplishment that I did and I did a good thing.”

We all love we. “We, it’s great. Let’s credit everybody,” but then you end up crediting everybody and not crediting yourself. One of the tips I give is much better to say, “I and my team,” than to say, “We,” because we could be anybody.

“My team and I did this.” “I had an idea. Thank goodness. I had a wonderful team to support me.”

This is especially true in situations where there’s ambiguity. What happens is the credit could go to anyone. You don’t have clarity around roles and responsibilities and we don’t reemphasize what your role is and where you succeeded. Maybe even if you failed where you failed because then you can own that as well, but the important thing is not to take ownership for the failure of others or give away the successes that you’ve had. The only way of doing it is to communicate very clearly what your contribution was. This is the same thing that a lot of women do in their CVs. We accomplish this and then the interview is like, “If we did this, what did you do? What was your contribution?”

I had a wonderful conversation with a senior executive who had been reviewing a resume for a man this time, but saying, “Lead with what the economic impact was.” Instead of saying, “I supported the team too,” you could say, “We increased our revenue by $50 million over the year because of the adjustments that I made,” but lead with the $50 million not, “I supported the team and we did it all together.”

When we do that, there’s another benefit is that when you’re focused on explaining your contributions, in terms of numbers and economic outcomes, you start to drive your decision-making around where you want to invest your time around things that are tangible. I can give you a good example of this that I experienced in my own career.

The moment you have an assertive conversation is the moment you're going to start to change your life, personally and professionally. Click To Tweet

My boss suggested that I work on setting up the culture for the team as a side of your volunteering project. There I went and spent hours and hours a week working on setting up this new department and culture. When it came time for the performance evaluation, she, in general, thought I had done exceptional work with the culture but also with my normal job.

When she went to defend my high-performance review with the senior management, they said, “Culture is not work. That’s not relevant. I’m not going to give her a good rating because she worked on culture.” We miss that sometimes because, as women, we’re the ones who become the party organizers, the birthday recognition people, and we volunteer for all sorts of things that don’t lead to numbers. They don’t give us something that we can use to argue how we added value to the organization.

Several years ago, there was a big article in the Wall Street Journal about why there are so few female CEOs and the advice they all got was early in your career, make sure that you have some responsibility for the sales numbers, the profit, and loss. Asked for a position, not the easy, comfy, keep people happy ones in marketing or HR, and so forth, which might be the fun part, but ask to have a role where you’re responsible for generating sales because that’s what counts.

That is what still counts where culture is becoming more and more accepted that the soft skills, “don’t count.” You could put it in the context of culture matters for the current generations of workers because if they’re unhappy, they’ll leave. What’s the expense to the company to lose a worker or to have the whole team quit?

You could argue it in some ways, but it will never be as powerful as, “I generated this much money for the company. I saved this much money for the company.”

This is an evolving project. Tell us more about how you would approach claiming credit for your achievements or what you tell your clients.

The main concern for most women is, “I want to be humble. Let’s be humble leaders. Let’s be servant leaders. Let’s acknowledge others and that’s how it needs to be done.” However, again, we know that doesn’t work, but we don’t want to brag in a way that is too obvious, either. We do have the likeability. I have a suggestion. I have a blog post on this.

SWGR 120 | Speak Up

Speak Up: Do not take ownership for the failure of others or give away the successes that you’ve had. The only way of doing it is to communicate very clearly what your contribution was.


A couple of things, you don’t have to judge yourself. As you said, share the outcome and the impact. You’re not saying, “I did amazing. Look at what I did.” You’re saying, “I generated this amount of revenue or clients. I saved this amount. I hired this many people to settle this deal.” You give the numbers and the context, and then you share why that matters.

In the case of culture, I worked on culture, and let’s explain. You shared why that matters. You’re not saying, “This is more important than what other people did. Look how amazing I am because I did this.”  You’re adding no judgment to it. You’re explaining exactly what you accomplished and allowing other people to judge that.

This is one of the things that I learned early in my career. Luckily, I had a boss who worked in Saudi Arabia and I was in Dubai. We didn’t see each other that much and he wanted to know what I was doing. He asked me every day to send him an email at the end of my working day that stated what I had achieved and what I needed from him to do my job well. If there were any other roadblocks in the way, what was my plan for the next day?

Later in another job, the CEO asked the entire organization to do that on a weekly basis to say, “What have you achieved in bullet points with numbers,” something that he could roll all the way up to the board and on all levels have a clear indication every week of what was happening in your organization. I then adopted this with my team as well. “This is great for you because you can keep track of what’s happening with your own accomplishments and it will make you feel good and accomplished, but also, you can directly plug this into your CV.” Not only that, you’re helping your boss promote your work.

As it is hard for the manager to know what you’re doing and if you give it to them, the exact script that they can use with their boss, you’re going to make them look good, and then they’re going to be able to say, “This came from Elizabeth.” You’re helping them, yourself, and the organization. Why wouldn’t you do it that way?

I called that the weekly update email and I learned it from the wonderful, Cindy Solomon. I actually learned it from my dad, but because it was my dad, I didn’t take it seriously and then had to do it other times, but the key to that is always do it in a Word document and keep it so that you could go back and say, “Last month, I did this amazing thing. I’d forgotten because they’ve been so many fires to put out since then. We did this amazing thing. My part of it was.” Ivna, this has been wonderful and full of useful information. For someone who’s still struggling with how to be assertive rather than aggressive, where could we start? Leave us with one thing to start on.

I’m going to give you steps one and two. The first thing you to understand is that assertiveness is going to be good for you and it’s going to help you. I invite you to explore what that looks like and feels like because while you’re thinking that assertiveness is not your personality and not suited to you, it’s aggressive. It’s going to make you look bad. You’ll never be able to be assertive where you don’t have the motivation to be assertive.

Look to understand what it means and what it could mean for you. Second, once you have that shift in mindset, I would say, “Try it out. Don’t wait. Start immediately,” because the moment you have an assertive conversation is the moment you’re going to start to change your life as it did with me. It changed my professional life and also my personal life. It’s one of those things, like most communication skills, you get immediate benefit from it.

Even if somebody is upset, no one dies. Try it and try it again until you figure out what works for you and what is getting you the results.

This is a little bit of trial and error with some knowledge, but experiment with new ways of being you, which could be the assertive you.

Ivna Curi, thank you so very much for coming to the show. I enjoy your podcast a great deal and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. I’m sure we will do more of this as time goes on. Let me remind you that if you’re curious about where your presentation skills are strong and where you might need a little help, you can take our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you’re strong in your presentation skills and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve. Thank you for reading. I’ll see you at the next one.


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About Ivna Curi

SWGR 120 | Speak UpIvna Curi is the CEO and founder of AssertiveWay.com, a company dedicated to help organizations advance professional women by training them on how to speak up with assertive communication without coming across as aggressive or difficult so they can be taken seriously, be respected, and contribute at a higher capacity. Her company provides talks, experiential workshops, and trainings both online and in person. Ivna has an MBA from INSEAD, leading business school outside of the USA and an Electrical Engineering degree. She is also a Forbes Contributor. She has lived, worked, and managed teams around the world in 4 of the 7 continents for Fortune 500 companies including Johnson & Johnson, A.T. Kearney, and Etihad Airways. She also gets excited about hiking, interior design, and experiencing different cultures.