Assertiveness in the Workplace: Pros, Cons and How To Be More Assertive
Assertiveness is an essential communication tool to express your opinions respectfully. Practicing assertiveness can boost your self-esteem and help you implement positive changes in your organization. As an employee, it’s important to understand how to create an assertive delivery that is easy for your audience to understand. In this article, we explain the definition and importance of assertiveness and guidance for exhibiting assertive behavior in the workplace.
Assertiveness is an emotion that enables professionals to express their opinions and respect their colleague’s perspectives simultaneously. Employees can defend their ideals while maintaining positive connections with teammates and managers. Unlike aggression, assertiveness considers how others feel.
It’s also different from passiveness because of its firm delivery of a message. To practice assertiveness, employees find a balance between acquiescing others’ requests and satisfying their own interests.
“If your boss or leaders ask for help on something, volunteer to help,” says DeWall. “Volunteering is an easy way to demonstrate assertiveness while minimizing conflict because it is a personal choice; you can choose whether you want to volunteer or not.” You can mark yourself out as a go-getter and help others who may not have wanted to take on the same responsibilities.
It’s also a good place to do a test run of your assertiveness. “Become a building fire marshal or head up a volunteer event,” Erica McCurdy, founder of executive coaching group McCurdy Solutions, tells Bustle. “These are roles where those not always in leadership are given temporary authority to show leadership what you are made of and test out your assertiveness in a temporary environment.”
Lead With Your Feelings
Sometimes working with others means giving some criticism, and that’s an important time to be assertive, experts tell Bustle — but phrasing can really help make it easier. “If you’re trying to give constructive feedback in a way where you don’t want to create conflict, I recommend you always lead with how someone is making you feel,” Liz Wessel, CEO of WayUp, a company that connects young people with Fortune 500 companies for internships, tells Bustle. “No one can argue with your feelings, since they are yours to have.” Using “I” statements and phrases about your own feelings, like “you made me feel XYZ,” are more effective than “you clearly feel XYZ about me,” because they’re all about you.
Starting with praise can also help. “Start off by sharing a statement of validation letting the other person know that you appreciate them and the work they do,” McCurdy tells Bustle. “By being someone who does not often create conflict, your conversation is likely to have an impact larger than you may intend, so make your case carefully, concisely, impersonally, and be sure to articulate exactly what you need the other person to do to resolve your issue.”
Assertive: I’m ok – you’re ok
Being assertive means that you respect yourself enough to put forward your thoughts and suggestions, whilst also respecting the other person and their point of view. You are communicating directly and honestly as well as being kind and likeable.
When you’re assertive, you talk openly about what you need. You might not always get what you want, but by listening to others and by having the courage to speak candidly and respectfully, your calm and agreeable style will earn others’ respect.
Because assertiveness is based on mutual respect, it’s an effective and diplomatic approach. It allows us to cooperate, to understand both points of view and ideally to resolve conflict by finding an outcome that suits us both.
How to be assertive in five steps:
- Be curious about the other person’s point of view. Even if they are not acting professionally, they will have reasons for their behaviour or opinion. Ask open questions and really listen to understand what they have to say. If people are being unreasonable, listening to their needs and expectations can be really challenging. But if you ensure they feel listened to and respected, the conversation can shift to a more positive dialogue.
- Speak up and express yourself. People can’t read your mind, so be honest and specific. Use “I” language to avoid sounding critical. For example: “I have another suggestion” rather than “You’re wrong”. Or “I noticed the deadline wasn’t met” instead of “You didn’t meet the deadline”. If you have a hard time turning down requests, learn to say no, not yet, or not now. Saying no is not selfish, it shows you are able to prioritise and can set healthy limits. Remember, every time you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. Saying no therefore also enables you to say yes to the things that matter most. Explain your perspective and ask for help if needed. Keep any explanations short and simple.
- Watch your tone: It not just what you say but how you say it. Keep your tone of voice and body language open and warm. You don’t want your message to get lost because people are reacting to your delivery. We read a great deal into the way something is said, not just the words people use. When you are preparing for an assertive interaction, think ahead about your body language and how you can show you are OK and so are they. Pay particular attention to your facial expressions, arms and posture.
- Think win-win: don’t assume the other person is aiming to undermine or belittle you. Even if they are, don’t sink to their level, don’t treat them badly, and don’t withdraw from the conversation. Build on their ideas rather than dismissing them. Offer potential solutions and ask the other person to help you shape an answer that works for both of you. Work together on the challenge or issue, exploring it from all sides, finding common ground and a way forward that deals with both of your concerns.
- Respond, don’t react: if you find yourself feeling strong and unhelpful emotions in an interaction, it can be really hard to stay assertive. Take a deep breath, pause and think. Your feelings and emotions are entirely valid, however assertiveness means not allowing those feelings to drive your behaviour.
Thinking I’m Ok, You’re Ok will keep you assertive no matter how difficult the conversation. You might not always get exactly what you want, but your pride and self-respect won’t be damaged. And you will build a reputation for being confident, professional and great to work with.