The notion of being assertive is often covered as part of a personal or management training course. The idea being that being more assertive can lead to being more effective. This is undoubtedly true. In this article, we explore how being assertive can lead to a happier and more fulfilled work life.

Let’s examine the definition, here taken from our good friend Wikipedia:

Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.

It goes on to say, and this is the part that interests us most:

…this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view”

Let’s separate out the three different approaches:

  1. Passive = letting other people not respect your rights

  2. Aggressive = not respecting the rights of others

  3. Assertive = respecting your rights and the other person’s too

Any reasonable and well balanced individual would agree that 1 and 2 are bad! Being assertive is clearly the way to go. However, walking the walk is not as easy as understanding or realising this to be true.

Consider the following common workplace scenarios. Do you recognise any of them?

  1. Your boss books a regular 1-2-1 with you, during your lunch hour!

  2. Your boss turns up late for your a 1-2-1 or even misses it all together because they are too busy.

  3. Your boss turns up for your 1-2-1 and only talks about what they want.

  4. Your boss delegates something to you and then proceeds to wade in and start doing it for you.

  5. A colleague starts to do an aspect of your job without asking.

  6. A colleague cuts you out of the loop on an important communication thus undermining your ability to do your job.

Anything sound familiar?

In all of these situations, your response to the event is really important. You can see where this is headed, right? In all of the above situations, the other person is being aggressive as they are not respecting your rights.  Refer again to the above definitions. If you let them get away with it then you are behaving passively.

However, what you should not do is react aggressively. Even if that made you feel better, it’s only going to make a bad situation worse.

Try to spot such situations and recognise aggressive behaviour in others and just as importantly, any passive response on your part. Aim to be assertive. You can think about such situations in advance or reflect on past experiences and mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for a ‘next time’.

Being assertive should not be confused with being aggressive. You can be 100% assertive while remaining calm and polite. Even compassionate. Your boss or colleague may not even be aware that they are being aggressive, it may be quite unintentional or just a result of being overworked or unskilled in such scenarios. If you act assertively you are most likely doing the other person a huge favour as well as yourself. It’s very likely that they are not singling you out with this behaviour and behaving this way with other people too.

So for example, if your boss misses a 1-2-1, don’t simply let it pass by or get angry. Speak to them or even email them and say “I appreciate you are very busy at the moment but I really value our 1-2-1s and it’s important to me that we do them whenever we can. Could we schedule in this 1-2-1 again this week? That would be really appreciated. Thanks!”

In this scenario you feel a lot better about yourself, you will have made it clear to your boss that 1-2-1s are important and not just to you but probably to everyone else on the team as well.

Go ahead and assert yourself 

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