How to be Assertive
In the first of our series of Coaching ‘Talent Tips’ to assist with the twelve key areas that tend to be addressed in Executive and Performance Coaching, we look at how to manage high assertiveness levels and perceived aggressive behaviour, or how to become more assertive and confident.
Assertiveness Training often deals with 3 areas: self belief and self awareness, having rights, as well as working on techniques to monitor perceived aggression, or to increase confidence levels. In order to increase self-awareness and identify key development areas, at Natural Talent we recommend that every Coaching or Training Programme begins with some form of Talent Assessment, whether a Personality Profile, 360 Feedback Process, or self-assessment exercise to review key Leadership and Management Competencies, which may also include feedback from Line Managers. These Assessment Tools assist in providing an objective and rounded view of an individual’s key development areas.
In addition we usually ask individuals to identify where they sit on the Assertiveness Continuum, i.e. Passive – Assertive – Aggressive, or somewhere in-between. When this takes place on a physical Continuum in a training environment some individuals place themselves off the scale of the Continuum, or even worse are placed there by their colleagues! This is when alarm bells can ring for some managers, as in a number of recent surveys in the UK and US 35%, or one in seven employees, have complained that they feel ‘bullied’ in the workplace, usually by ‘overly assertive’ bosses.
So What is Assertiveness?
It is being clear about our own position, communicating this to others, and accepting their positions. Essentially it involves taking responsibility for our own feelings and beliefs and not attempting to justify them. Assertiveness means standing up for your rights without violating the rights of others.
However, there is a fine line between being assertive and being perceived as aggressive; in particular women in leadership and management positions are often described as aggressive, when in fact they are only being assertive.
If you are one of those individuals who has completed a Personality Questionnaire and been described as ‘arrogant, controlling, dictatorial or a bulldozer’, or in a DISC profile as a ‘High D’ i.e. ‘demanding, driving, forceful, daring, determined’, then the next two paragraphs may apply to you!
Highly assertive individuals often need to work on their confrontation and problem solving techniques; we encourage them to use Open Questions to discover the needs of the other person, then acknowledge their needs, often by improving their Active Listening skills, and by offering options and alternative solutions. Other techniques they practise include relaxing their shoulders, controlling their breathing, keeping a neutral expression, controlling their voice, concentrating on the problem not the personality, avoiding personal attacks, remaining calm and in control, and aiming for a win-win outcome.
However, remaining calm and in control is not always easy for highly assertive individuals, in particular when they are under pressure as naturally people tend to adopt a fight or flight approach and become aggressive/passive. Clarifying facts, being willing to listen actively, showing mutual respect for the other person’s point of view, as well as working on their own resilience levels, all assist in developing assertive communication and behaviours.
For those individuals who are working on becoming more assertive we also emphasise the importance of verbal and non verbal communication, including body language, vocal impact, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, and posture. We examine the irrational thoughts that can prevent people from being assertive and practise techniques to stamp out the negative voice/head chatter/inner critic. These include remembering positive experiences and making a list of key accomplishments to refer back to when it is necessary to be more assertive and to increase confidence levels.
We also look at the difference between Self Esteem – what you feel and think about yourself, and Self Belief – something you might exhibit in a particular situation (or your façade), which can drain away in challenging situations such as having to present to the Exec team! Being direct and avoiding preambles such as ‘I know you’re really busy but….’ or ‘I’m ever so sorry to trouble you but….’ or ‘You’ll probably think I’m awful saying this but…’ ensures you sound more assertive. Taking responsibility for your views and actions also results in you coming across as assertive, using statements with ‘I’ rather than ’You’, such as ‘In my opinion…’ or ‘My understanding is..’ which are more effective than ‘You are….’ or ‘That’s not right’.
If you can control your head chatter and give yourself positive messages and remember that you alone are in control of your behaviour, you are more likely to come across as assertive.
For a complimentary Personality Assessment or more Coaching ‘Talent Tips’, please contact us