Many people think of assertiveness as a form brash confidence that is used liberally to win arguments and get results that are beneficial to the individual but not the group. However, assertiveness is a very necessary trait to ensure that everyone in a group gets the results they need. Assertiveness is a way of thinking, behaving and reacting to others that allows you to stand up for your rights while also respecting the rights of those around you. The needs and feelings of others are quite often different to our own, and how we communicate our own wants and needs with consideration to the needs and feelings of others is the internal balancing act that takes place when we are being assertive.
When it comes to interacting with other people, there are four main styles of relating with them that we all adhere to, although we may change from style to style depending on who we are interacting with. For example, we may relate with our family in a completely different way to our work colleagues. These four styles and their typical behaviors are:
When someone takes on this style of relating, they are very unlikely to take action to meet their own needs, they are not committed to their own rights and are more likely to allow others to infringe upon their rights and feelings. Some typical behaviors of the passive style are:
- Use of “fill-in” words; “maybe, just, I don’t suppose, sort of,” etc.
- Self-putdowns; “I am hopeless at this,” etc.
- Over use of apologies and permission seeking.
People relating aggressively usually believe strongly in placing their rights above others, if they consider others to have the same rights at all. Typical behaviors of the aggressive are:
- Opinions expressed as facts.
- Deflecting blame on to others, heavy use of assumptions about others.
- Sarcasm and putdowns directed at others.
A passive-aggressive disregards the needs and feelings of others much like an aggressive style, however they operate more in line with the passive style in that they are not willing to express their needs and feelings openly. A passive-aggressive will seek ways to meet their needs in a more covert, roundabout or sneaky way. Typical passive-aggressive behaviors include:
- Being jealous & feeling threatened by the success of others.
- Speaking negatively about someone behind their back.
- Expecting others to be aware of your opinions and feelings without discussing them.
When we relate assertively, we accept and respect our own rights and feelings and the rights and feelings of others, simultaneously. Someone who relates assertively generally displays these traits:
- The ability to distinguish between facts and opinions.
- Use of suggestions rather than weighted advice or commands.
- Use of questions to find out the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others.
Assertiveness in the workplace: Silence can be costly!
A lack of assertiveness can be a dangerous thing. In his book “Vital Conversations”, Alec Grimsley reports some scary statistics that directly result from a lack of assertiveness in management:
“70% of teams interviewed said that at least one member of their team had displayed consistent, inappropriate or destructive behavior that had gone unchallenged by the team’s manager over a year. 30% had reported that this employee’s behavior had continued unchallenged for over 3 years, and only 20% of people actually have the confidence to have a tough conversation.”
Keeping quiet is evidently not the solution. Assertiveness is required when instigating the difficult conversations that are necessary for curbing passively or aggressively negative behaviors at work.
5 Tips for becoming more assertive
- Start small. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training your body over time, taking small steps and setting more increasingly difficult personal goals to increase your physical endurance over time. Being assertive also takes this kind of training. To begin, try being assertive in mildly tense situations, such as asking to be seated elsewhere in a restaurant.
- Learn to say no. Passive types worry that saying no is selfish. It isn’t. Setting healthy limits is an important part of healthy relationships. Good fences make good neighbors.
- Let go of guilt. Being assertive can be tough, especially for a people-pleaser with passive tendencies. It can feel unnerving, and you may feel like you are treading on people’s toes. This is the wrong frame of mind to be in, being assertive can be vital to your personal wellbeing. If you feel uncomfortable, try picturing yourself as someone else, for example someone that you deeply care about such as a family member. People-pleasers tend to find it a lot easier to speak up for others than for themselves.
- Express your needs and feelings. Assuming that someone else is aware of your needs and feelings is the wrong course of action to becoming assertive. Inform others about what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Be clear, be honest and be thorough. Approach this as you would approach ordering a coffee. If you don’t disclose exactly what you want, sugar, milk, cream etc., you aren’t going to get back what you need.
- Check out a course at AIM. The Assertiveness Techniques short course will provide you with guidance and insight into the ways in which you respond to different people, situations and events. With a strong focus on communication and behavior, the course gives you the tools you need to effectively manage your responses and express your views and plans. At the conclusion of the course you will be able to recognise, monitor and control your behavior, identify when, why and how to respond assertively, demonstrate your assertive rights and openly express how you feel.
For more information on the Assertiveness Techniques short course or any of our other Communications Skills courses, or to organise your enrolment, please call one of our training advisors on 1300 658 337.