Assertiveness (əˈsɜːtɪv) - adjective
- confident and direct in claiming one's rights or putting forward one's views
- given to making assertions or bold demands; dogmatic or aggressive
Collins Dictionary Definition
For some people, assertiveness comes naturally: Those lucky few are able to accurately and effectively communicate how they feel about a situation or a request in a calm and measured manner. Unfortunately, for many people, assertiveness is a skill that must be learned, and this involves the unpleasant experience of being spoken to or dealt with in a way that you may feel is unfair – perhaps you do not feel respected by a colleague, or feel that you are given too much work to complete compared to your colleagues because of your inability to say ‘no’? Whatever the reason, the impact a lack of assertiveness can have on your emotional well-being can be significant:
“People who do not assert themselves not only fail to get what is due them…they also tend to feel bad about themselves. The may go over a situation in their mind time and time again, thinking ‘Why didn’t I say that?’ or ‘If only I’d done this’. This can lead to feelings of blame, depression and anxiety”
I have developed a short list of helpful tips to help with assertiveness – these are based on my own personal experiences, and as such may not be useful in every situation. For those people who feel that they need more structured help and support in order to become more assertive, there are a huge number of day and 2-day courses out there that can help you gain the practical skills required to become a more assertive individual, and effectively use these skills in a real-life setting – just google ‘Assertiveness Courses’, you’ll be surprised how popular and in-demand they really are!
Assertiveness tip 1: Take a deep breath - If you or a colleague has been treated unfairly, this naturally can cause feelings of annoyance, frustration, and in some cases even anger. By taking a deep breath and a moment to calm yourself before addressing this issue with the perpetrator, you should be able to more calmly vocalise the issue that you have with the statement or demand that you felt was unfair. If you can explain clearly and calmly the reasons behind your frustration, it is more likely that the response you get from your colleague/customer/etc. will be calm and clear, helping you to work through the issue effectively. If you go into the situation ‘all guns blazing’, it is likely that your emotion-fuelled state will prevent you from communicating effectively, and will provoke a heightened emotional response from the other party too, resulting in an argument rather than a civilised discussion.
Assertiveness tip 2:Don’t be afraid to say no – Although hard to say when you are desperate to make a good impression, ‘no’ is sometimes the very best thing to say. If you are swamped with work, yet never say ‘no’ to any additional work from customers or colleagues, then you put yourself at risk of physical and emotional burnout. If you are asked to carry out more work, be honest about the timescale you would be able to complete this in, or re-assess the priority levels of the work in your in-tray – instead of blindly saying “yes”, try “I could do this, but it would mean putting the other work you have asked me to do to the back of the pile” or “I should be able to complete this in a week, once I have completed the rest of the work you have set for me”. This will give your customer or colleague a choice, and ensure that you have the time available to accurately and efficiently complete all the work set for you, without having to rush anything. If you still feel overworked and constantly overloaded, it may be time for you to reconsider the time you are putting into each task – perhaps your time-management is a little off, or you need additional training in a certain area to help you speed up your processes? That could be where the real problem is.
Assertiveness tip 3: Be True to Yourself – If you are asked to do something that you don’t feel comfortable with, be honest about it; speak to your customer or manager in a calm and collected manner, and explain why you aren’t happy to perform a certain task. Hopefully, this should prompt a calm and open dialogue about the situation that is more likely to lead to it being resolved. However, try and think of the situation from the other side too – what are the reasons behind you being asked to do something? Is it in your job description? Assertiveness doesn’t always mean ‘winning’; Working with anyone, colleague or customer, requires a certain amount of give and take, and you may occasionally have to do things that you don’t want to do (unless they impact on your personal safety or health and well-being, in which case this is a more serious issue that you may need to refer to a union/external agency to resolve) in order to ensure work is carried out successfully.
Assertiveness tip 4: Be Positive – Although there is a time and a place for a good moan, work isn’t always that place! If you are constantly negative about work, customers or colleagues, then you are likely to develop a reputation as a difficult person to work with. It is also more likely that people will find it difficult to communicate effectively with you, making many conversational exchanges ‘heated’ and emotional. If someone asks you a question, don’t dismiss them outright – consider their feelings. A more positive response, something like ‘that sounds interesting, but what about trying it this way?’ may mean that your views and thoughts are more widely listened to and appreciated than they would be if you took a more negative and abrupt approach.
Being assertive isn’t about being bossy – it is about conveying your thoughts in a calm and measured manner, whilst also considering the thoughts and feelings of others. Assertive individuals are “able to get their point across without upsetting others, or becoming upset themselves” www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/assertiveness.html - a great quote, and something to think about if you are considering trying out some of the tips described above to help you become more assertive in your day to day work.