Developing assertiveness is one of the key aspects of successful leadership and effective teamwork, but it can often be difficult for people to demonstrate this when the pressures of work have us pulled in all directions.
Helping individuals to build the confidence to say ‘no’ and to understand why it is sometimes important to do so could therefore be a fantastic boon to many businesses.
Understanding assertiveness in the workplace
Adopting an assertive mindset provides the opportunity for individuals to more easily work alongside others and to bring together people in a constructive manner. Here is a definition of assertiveness that we believe holds the key to understanding what we mean:
The ability to confidently express your needs, rights and views without invading the needs, rights and views of others.
Assertiveness is all about effective communication and having the confidence to put across one’s own point of view. At the same time, there is the need to take into account the position of others to deliver the best outcome for mutual satisfaction.
Why is assertiveness essential?
Being assertive helps to ensure that effective communication is taking place within an organisation. It ensures that all parties know where they stand and the difficult task of delivering on promises can be more easily achieved.
Dealing with conflict can be one of the most difficult aspects of business, but developing assertive behaviours can help to limit distress for all parties. To so so, we need to understand the common approaches to conflict resolution, and these are:
Competition – assertive but uncooperative – competition sees individuals pursuing their own goals with little interest in supporting others.
Accommodation – unassertive but cooperative – the opposite of competition; accommodating behaviour includes an element of self-sacrifice and can ultimately lead to resentment and a neglect of one’s own responsibilities.
Avoiding – unassertive and uncooperative – not dealing with the situation at hand and hoping that things will resolve themselves on their own. This is arguably the worst attitude to have when faced with a conflict.
Compromise – moderate in both assertiveness and cooperation – compromise means finding a mutually acceptable solution to a problem, but which does not fully meet the requirements of either party.
Collaboration – both assertive and cooperative – the opposite of avoiding; collaboration is a process that sees individuals working closely with others to resolve their problems.
The goal of assertiveness is to foster this final behaviour. Collaboration means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the two individuals, who are then able to work together to deliver a successful outcome that satisfies all – the best possible result for any business.
This helpful graph highlights these key relationships:
Balancing our own needs against others
What people need to understand is that being assertive does not simply mean imposing your will. Assertiveness is not about getting your own way, nor is it about manipulating others.
Assertiveness ensures that everyone gets a favourable outcome when discussing their expectations of both themselves and others. It provides a clear understanding of what is needed from each individual in a way that is unambiguous and geared to facilitating a favourable response.
An example of assertive behaviour may be a demanding boss calling upon you to deliver a project in an unrealistic timeframe. In cases like this, it can be easy to simply become frustrated and say that it’s not achievable. However, a more assertive response would be to properly explain the situation and come to a compromise.
Perhaps they could take away some less-pressing work to make capacity for this more urgent project? Or, the project could be put on hold until it can be delivered without the need to rush? In both of these outcomes, delivering a satisfactory result depends upon you being willing to stand up for your own best interests and those of the business in delivering the best possible work.
When people are able to successfully incorporate the following traits into the way they communicate with others, this creates an assertive tone and mindset that can help to build respect and get things done:
- Stating expectations
- Expressing needs, wants or requirements
- Expressing feelings
- Providing feedback
- Keeping it clear and simple
- Avoiding ambiguity
- Firm and warm
- Uncompromising non-verbal behaviour
Assertive communication a key to better business
By helping individuals at all levels of your organisation to work in an assertive manner, you are developing more respectful and productive teams. The advantages that this holds for businesses include increased efficiency, greater staff happiness and wellbeing, well-run teams and, ultimately, a better bottom line.
Assertive behaviour and communication also helps people to come away from situations with a stronger feeling of satisfaction and self-worth, happy in the knowledge that they have done themselves justice.
You can find out more about the importance of being assertive and how developing a stronger mental attitude in the workplace can provide real and lasting benefits for all by reading ‘Bolstering mental toughness: A how-to guide‘.
- Sarah Cave, director and head of leadership at Primeast