Assertiveness Tricks That Will Make You a Hero at the Office

No doubt you’ve heard that it’s ok to be assertive when dealing with others, but being aggressive crosses the line. Still, if you’re like many people, there is a VERY thin line between assertiveness and aggressiveness.  And, in the heat of the moment, it’s very easy to cross that line. Furthermore, if you’re especially emotional at that instant, it’s easy to bulldoze your way over that line.

See if the following scenario sounds a little familiar:

This Monday morning sucks. Already running late to work anyway because your kid missed the bus and needed a ride to school, you’re having a particularly grueling rush hour commute to work. You just spilled your beloved cup of White Chocolate Mocha coffee on your shirt and then dropped the hot cup on the floor of your car. You’re furious with yourself because your car will smell like rancid White Chocolate Mocha after a day sitting in the hot August sun in the parking lot. After running into your company’s CEO in the elevator (who seemed fixated on the big brown stain on your white shirt), you plop down at your desk a full 45 minutes late.

Unfortunately, the first thing you see when you sit down is an email from HR announcing a mandatory meeting for the entire staff at 9 a.m., just a mere 15 minutes from now. You instantly feel negative and imagine the worst. And, based on your experiences so far with the new VP of HR, you couldn’t be more accurate. Her mannerisms suggest that she comes from a military background—you’re just not sure if it was with the U.S. Army, or if she was a Nazi storm trooper back in the day.

And, it’s about to get worse …

As it turns out, you’re informed at the meeting that HR is rolling out a ridiculous new policy whereby employees are not permitted to display pictures of their families on their desks. There is a question and answer period at the end of the meeting. You voice your dissatisfaction with vehemence. “Are you crazy?” you pronounce. “Morale is low, most staff haven’t received raises in two years and you’ve just eliminated the bonus plan! This is turning into a jail, not a place of work! I’m more like the Manager of Staff Complaints than anything else these days!”

After another two minutes of venting, you suddenly realize that you were shouting at the VP of HR. Quite embarrassed by this out-of-control reaction, you leave the meeting room at once.

What can you do to avoid similar outbursts in the future? Recognizing the very particular differences between assertive, aggressive, and non-assertive communication is a compelling start.

Are you an aggressive, non-assertive or assertive communicator?

Aggressive communicators express feelings while completely ignoring the feelings of others. They are often bullies and they tend to humiliate and alienate others and, ultimately, defeat themselves in the process. These communicators also usually express negative judgments.

Non-assertive communicators never express their feelings or beliefs. They are inhibited and afraid of disclosing their needs and ideas. Poor self-worth is common in non-assertive communicators. They avoid unpleasant situations and rarely get what they want.

Assertive communicators practice the “I win-you win” philosophy. They stand up for themselves without demoralizing others. They avoid argumentative or maligning behavior. Assertive communicators have positive self-esteem and the chances of generating serious conflict with assertive types are greatly reduced. Finally, they believe that both parties involved matter and that relationships are based on openness and honesty.

The statement used in the opening scenario above is aggressive. Not only were feelings dismissed, but the VP was humiliated and put down. How can you restate the message with assertiveness? Here’s an option, “I’m not happy with the change in policy. I feel that it is not good timing as the company’s financial position lately has caused low morale. I’m speaking on behalf of the company. Could you reconsider instituting this change at a better time for everyone?”

This approach is direct, but not off-putting. The speaker stays in control and states feelings void of heavy
emotion. Even though HR may not heed the request, it is important that the tenor of the statement was not aggressive. The statement retains the speaker’s credibility and enhances self-worth. When have you spoken with aggression or non-assertion? How will ensure that the next time you have an opportunity to be outspoken that you speak with assertion?

Making your messages more assertive

When conflict or poor communication is causing problems at work, people typically react passively by doing nothing or aggressively by doing and saying too much. Still others may react in a passive-aggressive manner. They may not say anything to your face, but they’ll talk about you behind your back and try to sabotage your efforts. When these situations occur, no one “wins” and no problems are ever solved.

Assertive communication can help you get to the heart of these problems and find solutions. The most effective way to communicate assertively is to prepare a script of what you want to say. Plan it, write it out, fine-tune it, memorize it, and practice it—all before you present it. DESC is an acronym for a four-step process that helps you prepare and deliver successful assertive scripts.

D = Describe
E = Express
S = Specify
C = Consequences

The technique was first formulated in a 1976 book, Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide to Positive Change, (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.), and updated in 1991 by Sharon Anthony Bower and Gordon H. Bower.

Each step addresses a certain goal:

Describe: Objectively describe the problem to the target person, the one who can do something to help resolve it. Be very specific, stating when, where and why the problem occurs.

Express: Using restraint, calmly express how you feel. Remember to focus on the problem, not the person who’s causing or contributing to it.

Specify: Carefully explain how you would like the problem to be solved and be willing to compromise a bit to reach a solution. Remember, you’re making a request, not a demand.

Consequences: Lay your cards on the table. Tell the target person about the positive consequences or “rewards” that will result if she helps solve the problem. If the target person isn’t willing to help, outline the negative consequences or “punishments” that will result. Then be prepared to follow through.

As you can see, it pays to be assertive in the workplace, especially when change and uncertainty are the only constants in today’s business world. Being assertive gives you the confidence and communication skills to go after and get what you really want. After all, if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will.

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