How assertive are you?
What is assertiveness? I always find it interesting discussing the topic of assertiveness in organisations as people often mistakenly label people or behaviour as assertive, when what they are actually describing is aggressive behaviour. I usually describe assertive behaviour on my Managing Challenging Interactions workshops as including some or all of the following:
- Rational and logical thought and behaviour.
- Managing emotions in order to remain calm.
- Respecting your own and other people's rights.
- Taking responsibility for your own actions, decisions and mistakes.
- Aiming for ‘win-win' outcomes.
- Communicating in an ‘Adult to Adult' manner.
- Not playing games.
- Being open and honest.
Looking at this list rate yourself on a scale of 1 (non assertive) to 10 (assertive) as to how assertive you are?
Why is it a good idea to become more assertive? Many of us might benefit from learning to be more assertive but we might be coming at it from different angles:
Passive behaviour: Some people might be more passive, quieter, tending not to speak up for themselves, perhaps ending up being walked over or taken advantage of by others. Some people remain passive forever, while others might build up their resentment from being walked over for many years, resulting in an eventual explosion of anger.
Aggressive behaviour: Other people's approach to challenging situations is to become aggressive. They might get angry or even explode, but often people don't listen to them, and hear what they are saying. Some people talk about being ‘open and frank', ‘telling it how it is', however, I have often noticed that these individuals do this in an aggressive rather than in an assertive manner, often ruffling a lot of feathers in the process. And, again, what they say is not necessarily taken on board.
Manipulative behaviour: Finally, there are those people who attempt to get their needs met by more manipulative means. They might not even be conscious of doing this but, rather than asking for things to be done directly, they do it in an indirect or manipulative manner. When I was describing on a workshop how one person in a client's team would sigh a lot when they felt under pressure and needed help, until a colleague would get fed up with all the sighing and resentfully say, ‘Don't worry I'll do it'. One of the participants on my workshop said, ‘Oh, I do that with my husband if I am tired and want a cup of tea, I sigh a lot, rather than just asking him to make me a cup of tea!!'
There are many ways in which we can either consciously or unconsciously manipulate situations: it might be by getting angry, crying, acting hopeless and helpless or whatever way in which you get other people to help out without actually asking them, or your behaviour enables you to avoid having to face situations. Often in coaching managers, they will talk about one individual who, whenever they broach a difficult subject with them, gets angry or upset and the meeting is aborted, and the topic is not discussed. This might not be conscious behaviour but they are manipulating the situation in order to avoid dealing with something they would rather not deal with.
Are you ever consciously or unconsciously manipulative? When are you passive or aggressive?
‘The longer you take to say something that needs to be said, the shorter the tone can be when you finally get around to saying it.' Peter Karsten
How can you become more assertive? Following on from the points made in the first paragraph, you might want to consider the following ideas:
Manage your emotional response – This is the first and foremost thing you need to do, as if you are not able to manage and transform your emotional response, it is going to be very difficult to come across in a calm and rational manner.
‘People are usually quite happy to consider a clearly expressed request – it is the accumulated backlog of resentment that gets their back up.' Anne Dickson
Respecting your own and others' rights – In any situation, consider what your rights are and what the other person's rights are. I am talking about such things as:
- The right to express what you think or feel.
- The right to be listened to, heard and understood (even if you or they don't agree).
- The right to feel whatever they or you feel.
- The right to be respected as a human being, and treated with respect.
If you tend towards being passive, this will assist you in having the courage to speak up. If you tend to be more aggressive, this will help you to think through what rights the other person has, in order to help you to calm down and communicate in a way that will respect those rights. Click here for a 2010 edition of Inspire about what constitutes bullying behaviour.
‘He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.' Michel de Montaigne
Take responsibility – With rights come responsibilities, and if we want to be treated with respect, and in an ‘Adult to Adult' manner, then you need to be prepared to take responsibility for your actions, decisions and even mistakes. When people do this within a team or organisation you move away from a ‘blame culture' towards a culture when you can calmly and logically work through what went wrong, learn from it and move on. Learning to accept responsibility for mistakes is often one of the last aspects of assertiveness to be mastered!! Click here to listen to a recording of one of my free webinars on Learning from your successes and mistakes.
A win-win outcome – When I mention this in organisations people often say that it is not possible to have a ‘win-win' outcome, someone always comes away feeling hard done by. However, if both parties involved act in an assertive ‘Adult' manner it is possible to end up with a ‘win-win' outcome, where perhaps both parties don't get their own way on everything, but they feel satisfied about the process and how they were dealt with. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want my handout on An Introduction to Transactional Analysis, and what I mean by an ‘Adult' manner.
I remember a sales manager in a client organisation telling me that he had found out that he was earning less than the other sales managers as he had been there for less time, but he was handling the same level of responsibilities. He had a meeting with the Sales and Finance Directors to discuss his request for a salary increase. He said that they listened carefully and responded to what he was saying. They explained how the situation came about and the fact that at that time they were not able to rectify the situation, but they would consider it during the next pay review. He said that although he had not secured a pay increase, he felt listened to, respected, and was very satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. This is a ‘win-win' outcome.
When have you respected your own and others' rights? When have you taken 100% responsibility for your actions? When have you ended up with a ‘win-win' outcome?
‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.' Stephen Covey