How to Be More Assertive at Work (Without Being a Jerk)
One of your colleagues is always having easier times. His needs are recognized and respected even without causing drama or getting into arguments. Whenever there is new work, it is not automatic that it will land on his desk.
As a result, he gets enough time to finish his duties without undue pressure. More than that, he also gets time to do some personal work too.
But what about you?
You also don’t cause drama or get into arguments. You collaborate well with your team members. You finish your work in good time.
However, you are always the first one to be considered for new work. It can even be ‘forced’ onto you if no one else is willing to do it. You wonder why your boss can’t understand that you have enough on your hands already. Despite telling him so, he just seems to prefer that you do the job.
What do you do to gain respect at work like your colleague?
This is obviously affecting you. You are slowly becoming angry with your boss for what you believe is unfair treatment. You are also getting angry with your colleagues because you see them as being inconsiderate and selfish.
Worst of all, you are getting angry with yourself. You can see the situation getting worse but are not doing anything about it. Yet you know you should.
You have become a pushover. You are not making your needs clearly known and being firm about them. This makes other people believe that you are okay with what they give you.
Since you object too softly, people conclude that you can somehow manage everything. You can handle more work. You can come in during the weekend. Or leave the office late in order to finish a report.
Usually, if you’re not okay with something, you are expected to communicate clearly and be firm about it. Otherwise, you will go by what others decide.
If you don’t come out strongly enough on the issues which matter to you, you end up suffering. You sacrifice beyond the norm and internally hurt as others enjoy life at your expense.
WHAT IS ASSERTIVENESS?
Assertiveness is all about communication.
As such, it enables you share your thoughts and opinions in a particular manner.
As you communicate, your words and body language send out cues picked by those listening and watching you. These cues determine how they understand and interact with you.
Sometimes, the cues are clear. At other times, they are vague, forcing your listeners to make their own conclusions.
Communication can be done in three different styles. These are assertive, passive and aggressive. Whether initiating conversations, making requests or responding to others, your communication style influences how you deliver your message.
When you are assertive, you communicate clearly and directly. Yo do not leave room for assumptions to be made. Whoever you are talking with will fully understand your position.
This makes your needs respected and any decision being made will have to take them into account.
While communicating assertively, you recognize and appreciate other people’s needs. You acknowledge that everyone should be given equal opportunity to be heard.
While others speak, you therefore listen to them so as to understand the point they are making. It is after understanding and considering their perspectives that you make your thoughts known.
Assertiveness is the ultimate show of self confidence and indicates a healthy dose of self-worth. Being assertive shows that you know who you are and are ready to stand up for yourself.
You are comfortable with your value system and cannot be easily moved to go against it. If for example you value integrity, you will be opposed to ideas which seek to keep the truth hidden. If it’s a solution suggested at work, you will openly state your position against it then offer a contrary suggestion.
Passive or non-assertive
Being passive means accepting whatever comes your way. Whether good or bad for you, you consent to it. If you are passive, you will prefer making others happy even when it goes against your wishes.
Rarely will you voice any dissenting thoughts or opinions. If you do, it will be in an overly-soft manner such that it won’t be taken very seriously.
When someone asks you for something which will inconvenience you, you decide to make the relevant sacrifices. You prioritize other people over yourself.
As a communication style, passivity is exhibited when you are not being true to yourself. You move in the opposite direction from what you actually want.
When a solution is suggested and it goes against your beliefs, you override your beliefs and agree with it. This is despite knowing how the solution will affect you.
For example, you may have planned a family re-union to be on Saturday. On Friday afternoon, you are requested to come to work on Saturday. Your family has not met together for the past 10 years and this get together party is very important to you. If you are passive, you will most likely commit to a few hours of work.
You will change your plans so that you join your family later on. You will thus have prioritized work over family, despite the importance you have placed on the family event.
This is the extreme opposite of passive. You are aggressive when you are completely insensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. You are fixated on your own needs and pursue them irrespective of what other people feel.
In the workplace setting, you may be making demands of your juniors and colleagues without regard to whether they can actually meet them. It gets worse when you are in a position of power or authority.
Aggressive people care very little about other people. All that matters is what they want and that is what has to be done. They bully people, especially the passive ones, and literally trample other people’s needs.
They take other people’s opinions as unimportant and unworthy of consideration. They will typically be loud and use demeaning words to try and force people into submission. Anyone resisting them stands to face some rough times as a result.
At work, the aggressive colleague undermines other people’s opinions and shoots down their ideas. He typically uses statements like: “This task has to be finished by noon.
Ensure it happens,” or “How could you give such a suggestion? Think through your ideas before proposing them.” This can happen even in a brainstorming meeting where ideas should flow freely.
Passive people can deny the company great solutions by not voicing their thoughts. On the other hand, aggressive people cause a lot of damage by propagating fear and creating an unhealthy work environment.
When you become assertive, you will create the best environment at your workplace. Standing your ground automatically gets the aggressive person to realize that he needs to change his communication approach.
Considering that you value other people and respect their needs, you will also encourage passive people to become more assertive. Because of this, you will not just be respected but also loved by those you help stand up for themselves.
WHAT KEEPS YOU FROM BEING ASSERTIVE
If you’re struggling with being assertive, then it is likely to be as a result of some beliefs which you hold. In most cases, people’s responses to situations are determined by their past experiences.
You may for example have been passive ever since you were young. A careful look at your past may probably reveal that you got criticized too much during your childhood years. Or maybe you were brought up in a culture that taught you passivity in the name of submission.
It is important that you recognize what is holding you back so that you deal with it. Below are some of the reasons you may have for continuing in passivity.
You feel like being assertive is rude.
This is caused by having the wrong understanding of what being assertive means. There are clear differences between being assertive and being aggressive. Bossy and pushy people are generally aggressive whereas pushovers are passive. Those who seek to strike a balance with respect to everyone’s needs are assertive.
You may have grown up knowing that humility is the quality of accepting unfair treatment without raising objection. This is obviously not true because when you don’t raise relevant objections, many things go wrong. Your current hurt due to disrespect from your boss and colleagues is clear evidence of this.
You feel like being assertive will hurt others.
You are obviously sensitive to other people’s feelings. As such, you seek to ensure they are handled well. Being assertive cannot hurt others because you will take people’s needs into account while communicating. It will help you be fair to others while considering your own needs. On the contrary, being aggressive is what can hurt others.
For you to deal with this belief correctly, you should remember that no-one knows your needs better than you do. People seek to know you from what you communicate to them. It is therefore your responsibility to make your needs known.
You feel the need to prioritize other people’s needs over yours.
This indicates low self-worth. If you don’t value yourself enough, you will see others as being more valuable than you are. You will go to great lengths to satisfy their needs while ignoring your own. It is important that you check on yourself image. Once you improve yourself image, you will start seeing the value you carry.
When you begin valuing yourself, you will know that you have something that the world needs. You will not struggle to see the worth of your ideas and opinions because you know they are valuable.
Since you know that your opinions have value, you will give suggestions boldly knowing they can turn situations around.
You fear losing friends.
If you have gained friends through passivity, then it is time to test those friendships. You most likely have built these friendships by making sacrifices which hurt you. If these people are true friends, then they will respect your needs as you start making them known. They will even congratulate you on your new behavior.
If those friends however thrived on exploiting you, you will face resistance from them. This will be the quickest way to differentiate between true and false friends.
Such are the ones you should look forward to losing. It is important that you get rid of negative people from your life. They do not add any value to you. Instead, they sap life out of you for their own benefit.
There may be other reasons you feel justify the need for you to hold on to passivity. Or they simply hold you back whenever you are about to move into assertiveness.
Just take a deep and realistic look at them. You will see that, just like the ones above, they have no truth in them.
BENEFITS OF BEING ASSERTIVE
Once learned, being assertive has many benefits. Just as you can benefit from generally expressing yourself, being assertive enables you to focus your communication accordingly.
Below are some of the benefits you can expect to enjoy when you start being more assertive at work.
- Less extra workload – extra work is possibly the main tell-tale sign that you are passive at work. You simply get to do most or all of the extra work. You may have accepted it at first because it was not much but the work is now too much to handle. When you become more assertive, not only will you speak up against it, but will effectively put a stop to it.
- More respect from your colleagues – your colleagues probably leave a lot of work pending because they know you will take care of it. Or they do a sloppy job leaving you to deal with the mess. Certainly, more respect ought to be coming your way. When you tell them to improve their work and stop doing it for them, they will know that things have changed. Results? You won’t have to do anyone’s job.
- More respect from your boss – bosses should not be feared but respected. On their part, bosses ought to respect the needs of those working under them. Quite understandably, your boss may be under pressure for various reasons. All the same, it is his responsibility to ensure all is well in the company. That is one of the reasons he is above everyone else. If your boss is not treating you the way you deserve, then things are not right. When you become more assertive, he will see the need to make changes. He will either adopt a more balanced approach or consult you before doing anything that affects you.
- A better life in general – Most of your waking hours are spent at work. Therefore a more enjoyable life at work will go a long way in ensuring your life is great. When you get the respect you need, you take control of your own life. And it all begins with your communication. Better communication can improve your life.
This gives you the confidence to do more. For example, you may get the confidence and even time to take an evening course to further your career.
This is due to the feelings of increased self-worth which come from the respect you will be receiving.
Something else, as you express yourself more readily and openly, you will make more friends. You will also be able to enjoy your friendships more than you used to.
HOW TO BE MORE ASSERTIVE
You may be thinking to yourself that you are simply not assertive, while admiring those who are. Contrary to what you think, assertiveness is not a personality trait.
It is a communication skill that can be learned. Nobody is born being a perfect communicator. Though some people communicate well naturally, you can also do the same. All you need is some training and the willingness to learn.
Going by the benefits which you will enjoy when you become more assertive at work, it is good to learn this skill. Below are ways which will help you become more assertive at work without being a jerk.
Recognize that your opinions matter
If people are not respecting your needs and opinions, it is possible that you undervalue them yourself. You think that your opinions are not very important and the company can do (well) without them. If you do not value your own ideas, it is because you don’t value yourself.
For example, you may be chosen as part of the team which will spearhead the launch of a new product. In the strategic planning meeting, brainstorming is going on and everyone is giving ideas.
You see a potential danger in implementing your colleagues’ ideas. You think through several ideas and come up with a great solution.
But when the time comes for you to speak, you end up supporting your colleague’s idea. Just improving on it a little.
Your own thoughts and opinions are important. They indicate your originality and enable you showcase what you have inside you. If you don’t share your ideas, your colleagues will conclude that you are of little help in such meetings.
The next time there is need for ideas, you will not be asked for any input. It will already be on record that you don’t have ideas. This sets you on the path to oblivion.
You should start believing in yourself. Give yourself assurances because you know very well that your ideas are well thought out. From here, start small. When a colleague is facing a challenge with his work, suggest a way out and explain how you see the suggestion helping them out. When implemented and it brings success, you can be sure your colleague will have a special recognition for you.
You can also look into the past for assurances. Ignore any negative words ever spoken to you. Instead, focus on the people you have helped and they gave you compliments.
Maybe you advised them and they told you that your idea worked. Maybe you helped them finish an assignment and they recognized your special skills. Build on these and appreciate that you have something that others can benefit from.
Moving forward, remind yourself that whatever you have to say is important and therefore you should say it. If you are not given the opportunity to speak, just interject politely and share your thoughts.
Know what you want
Since you are communicating, you must be having something in mind. You may want to take the day off tomorrow, a deadline pushed further or you don’t want any extra work. Whatever it is that you want, be clear about it in your mind before communicating it.
When it comes to being assertive, you cannot afford to be undecided by the time you are making your point known. You should know what you want before getting into a discussion. If you are not sure what is best for you, postpone the conversation.
If you are in a meeting, you may have some minutes to go through your thoughts. If you are however being asked to do extra work, you will need to communicate the first thing that comes to your mind.
Just ensure you don’t speak emotionally. Simply inform your colleague or boss that you are not able to handle more work at the moment. When you communicate assertively, you will get the satisfaction that comes with receiving what you want.
Avoid apologetic language
You may have noticed that most of the time when sharing your opinions, you start with an apology. You take it that you are interfering with the flow by raising concerns or voicing your thoughts.
This often happens when you are in the midst of confident people who are not afraid to state their beliefs and act according to them. It may also happen every time you seek the audience of someone in a higher position than yours.
Whereas apologizing for mistakes done shows humility and a sense of responsibility, too much of it can have negative effects. Apologizing too much indicates low self confidence. Because you are not confident about your own thoughts, you anticipate making someone else angry. You therefore apologize in advance so they don’t get angry with you.
An example of apologetic language is: “I’m sorry to take you back, but I was thinking that…” Even before saying what you want to say, you show that you’re doing something wrong and you know it. Instead, you can simply say, “Taking you back a little, I think…” Since you have a good reason to have something re-looked, you can easily give the reason if asked to. Just don’t apologize for it.
Apologetic language does not paint you in good light. It just sinks you deeper into low self-confidence. The more you go lower in self-confidence the more you will struggle with being assertive.
Consider the other person’s point of view
Listen to other people and consider their perspectives. This way, you will be able to understand them. Since people love feeling understood, they will feel respected and offer you the same respect.
When someone is expressing himself and you do not agree with him, start by showing empathy. Let him know that you listened to him and understood his point of view.
You can also mention one or two things he said to show you understood him well. Then proceed to express your dissenting thoughts. Ensure your thoughts have solid basis as evidence that you have thought them through.
For example, you may express a dissenting opinion like this: “I know we need to act fast to avert this crisis, but this solution goes against the company’s policy on employee relations.” You will show that while understanding the situation, there is need for a different solution to be agreed upon.
This gives you a chance to offer an alternative way of dealing with the situation at hand. If you had a solution in mind, propose it and show why it’s the right one.
Align your body language accordingly
When speaking assertively, you have to align your body language with your words. All the communication you give must be saying the same thing.
For good body language when practicing assertiveness, the first thing is to ensure there is direct eye contact. Also check your posture, whether talking while sitting or standing. If you slouch, you will communicate a lack of confidence, making your communication ineffective.
Avoid common body language mistakes. Do not cross your arms because you’ll come across as one not open to discussion. Since you are not being aggressive, you should communicate to show willingness to hear the other person out. Stay calm to enable you maintain a professional tone.
Use the broken record technique
This is the last thing you can try if all else fails. In using the broken record technique, you just keep repeating what you have said despite the other person pushing his way.
For example, if you are being given more work and don’t want to take it, you can simply say, “I currently have a lot of work and cannot take any more.”
With this technique, you repeat your statement while not budging despite any change in tactic by your colleague or boss. You may slightly change the statement but the core of the message must remain the same.
For example, you may change the statement to “I already have a lot of work and cannot take any more.” Although they may insist that you do something, if you stand your ground, they will finally get the message.
Communication is an important part of your life. At work, you communicate mainly to collaborate with your colleagues as well as to bond. Collaboration with your colleagues makes a big difference between the success and failure of the projects you are handling. As a result, this has a direct impact on your career growth.
If getting your point across is a challenge, then you can be sure your career is at risk. This is the last thing you want. So why not learn today how to be more assertive at work? You will guarantee your career growth while also greatly minimizing work-related stress. Start practicing assertiveness today and enjoy the benefits.