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November 7, 2016

Want Your Roar Heard? Use Assertiveness

Ed Pearcey

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It's sometimes easy for an assertive person, particularly strongly assertive, to be seen as aggressive. A sarcastic, off-the-cuff remark or a slightly raised voice, in certain situations, and when combined with assertiveness, can be viewed as hostility.

Several times during my career I've been perceived (occasionally correctly) as aggressive, pushing people into a certain position. Alternatively, I've also found myself in conversation with a senior colleague who often talked over me. Eventually, I just kept quiet for fear of causing offence.

It's here that assertiveness comes into its own. It's a skill that allows you to make your point and get your idea across (in a calm and positive way) while acknowledging the needs of others.

The Influence of Trump

As a young manager, having fallen under the spell of then rising media star Donald Trump, I often felt the need to appear forceful when talking to colleagues. I put an emphasis on "winning" a discussion, and just getting what I wanted.

I'd cut off colleagues before the end of their sentences. I also found it hard to accept any point of view that didn't sit with what I wanted to hear. I was trying to make a name for myself in a way that, at the time, I thought was appropriate.

Anger Is Counterproductive

I now realize my actions were counterproductive. People didn't respect what I was saying. They nodded in agreement without meaning it, or simply switched off from the conversation. The ideas I was forcefully putting forward weren't landing, making the whole interaction pointless.

I now fully understand their point of view. Moreover, I felt exactly the same when I encountered people who became angry during discussions.

One manager in particular wouldn't listen to anything I said, and would get annoyed if I questioned his approach. Despite being a nice guy, he was a talker, not a listener. The situation got worse, and resulted in me taking on tasks that were nothing to do with me.

The Art of Assertiveness

I needed to learn the art of assertiveness, and to understand that I could say "no" to something calmly and politely without being considered rude or aggressive.

Once I did this, with the aid of a little research and some new self confidence, the manager and I had a much better working relationship. We had a better understanding of what each of us could request from the other.

There's simply no substitute for experience. As my working life has moved on I've learned that assertiveness is absolutely vital if you want to have clear and open discussions with colleagues. 

What are your top tips for increasing your assertiveness? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. To learn more techniques for developing your assertiveness, watch the new Mind Tools video on the subject, here.

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