Assertiveness is very often misunderstood. We aren’t formally taught assertiveness like we are History or English, so it’s not surprising that we are unsure about what it is and isn’t.
It’s also misrepresented. It’s a sad fact that in families and workplaces, assertive behaviour is sometimes not encouraged. People often don’t want others standing or speaking up for themselves.
These issues about assertiveness were demonstrated recently at a training course, when one of the delegates told me that she has been accused of being aggressive when she believed she was behaving assertively. When we heard what she had said and how she had said it, she had been behaving assertively. The accusation was a bullying tactic used to undermine the woman, her role and her power.
So what is assertiveness?
“Assertiveness is about letting others know what you do and do not want in a confident and direct way.”
S Hadfield and G Hasson ‘How to be assertive in any situation’
Assertiveness is not about winning at the expense of other people, being forceful and determined to get your own way. Behaving assertively means you know your boundaries and those of other people, and use assertive language and non-verbal communication. It means working collaboratively, exploring and focusing on achieving all win outcomes.
There are numerous advantages of behaving assertively for yourself and others:
• You demonstrate you know your purpose, responsibilities and objectives
• You enhance your self esteem and self respect
• You are less likely to be taken for granted or advantage of
• People know where they stand with you; this leads to trust in you
• You feel more able to handle conflict and challenging situations in constructive, collaborative ways.
How to behave assertively – five ideas
1. State is everything – well, almost
At any time we are in a ‘state’ – a mental or physical condition.
Our state, how we are thinking and feeling, will have an impact on our behaviour – it cannot not. We can use this knowledge to prepare and support us.
• What states would assist you when you want to behave assertively?
• What states would resource you?
When you have identified the states, recall a time when you felt the state strongly, and have it in mind when you have the interaction where you want to behave assertively.
2. Keep it short and don’t explain…
…useful advice when needing to assert yourself.
If you give reasons for your decision you run the risk of people giving counter arguments.
People will also judge – from their perspective – whether the reasons are valid or appropriate.
So simply state your request or refusal in an assertive, short way:
“No, thank you”
“I prefer not to”
“That’s not convenient”
3. Know your rights
Have you considered what your rights are?
Some rights to:
• Express your feelings
• Make mistakes
• Ask for what you want
• Be treated with respect as an equal human being.
What rights do you have, and know you have, that you can keep in mind when wanting to behave assertively?
4. Erect your boundaries
In the workplace and out of work people behave in different ways and have different views of appropriate behaviour. This is fine as long as it doesn’t negatively impinge on you.
Often it does – people behaving aggressively or manipulatively, making unreasonable requests, discounting you, making it difficult for you to assert your rights.
All these behaviours are possibilities, and forewarned is forearmed. The clearer you have marked out your bounders, the easier it is for you to notice if they have been trespassed and for you to defend them.
What behaviour in others towards you is acceptable and what not? How are you going to communicate your boundaries and deal with trespassing behaviour?
5. Be objective
How often do we respond to situations emotionally? It is very difficult not to feel strong emotion when we believe that people are behaving aggressively or manipulating us. The instinct to fight or flight kicks in, which can hinder our ability to behave assertively.
The intention may have been to do harm, or not. Notwithstanding the intention, it is useful to see things from an objective viewpoint.
We will be more able to ‘see the wood from the trees’ to see the situation more clearly and in doing so envision strategies to deal with the issues.
Ways to gain more objectivity
• Mentally distance yourself from the situation – dissociate yourself so you are looking at you from an observer’s perspective, so you can see yourself and the other person. What are you seeing, hearing? What information does this give you?
• Mentally give the issue to another person, perhaps to a mentor or someone you respect, and ask them ‘How would you deal with this issue? What would you say? How would you behave?’
With over 17 years experience as an independent training and development consultant Krista Powell Edwards is an expert in the 7C’s of Performance, the seven factors that ensure you demonstrate confidence, credibility and capability – so you Know It and show You Know It.
Contact Krista Powell Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org
She is managing consultant of Humanistics Solutions, which helps individuals, teams and organisations develop their effectiveness, credibility and impact.