One of the biggest challenges for professionals today is being assertive. Assertiveness means being your own best advocate and ensuring you do not get taken advantage of. It requires a certain amount of courage to avoid passivity, as well as the tact to avoid aggression, and serves as a happy middle ground between the two. Being assertive can be a useful skill in many different ways, but is particularly vital for setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Being assertive won’t come easy to everyone. Folks who are shy, anxious and/or insecure may have a very difficult time standing up for themselves. It will also present a unique challenge for female employees, as assertiveness is largely seen as a “masculine” trait. This double standard is absolutely unfair, but it is important to acknowledge the reality that women who assert themselves may be judged as overly aggressive or cold.
One of the most challenging aspects of being assertive is determining whether or not it’s worth it. Assertiveness involves taking calculated risks. On one hand, accepting new responsibilities may greatly help your organization, illustrate your commitment and/or provide you an opportunity to gain new skills, but of course those benefits do not come without the expense of time and energy. Often times, folks will forego asserting their needs in order to avoid upsetting others and/or be seen as unwilling to go “above and beyond.” While these concerns are valid, your personal needs and boundaries are just as important. Each situation is unique, and must be individually evaluated. Ultimately, it comes down to an honest and fair assessment of whether or not denying the request will cause more harm than good.
Looking out for your best interests by being assertive and denying unfair or unrealistic requests is not selfish nor something to feel guilty about. Consider the following tips to help you openly communicate your needs and approach these situations gently, yet confidently:
- Assume best intentions and avoid accusing the requestor. Not following this tip could mean crossing the line to aggression.
- Think it through. Honestly evaluate whether or not the request is something you can accomplish without compromising your own wellbeing or quality of work.
- Know your limits. If you’re clear on what your needs and limitations are, they should be easier to stick to and explain to others.
- Be direct and remain polite. If you’re not able to take on additional tasks, or you feel you would not be able to give proper attention to a project, don’t be afraid to say so. Co-workers will recognize that as reasonable justification, and appreciate that you are straightforward and honest about your current capabilities.
- Use “can’t” sparingly. Instead you might say things like, “It’d be unwise of me to take that on at this time…” or, “By taking this on, the integrity of the project might be compromised. I think it’d be best to find someone who can more fully commit, and give it the attention it deserves.”
- Use “I” statements. Explain your feelings and be intentional about leaving the word “you” out of the conversation. By doing so, folks will be more apt to really listen and less likely to get upset or defensive.
- Mind your body language. Assertive body language is calm and strong, whereas aggressive body language is tense and intimidating and passive body language is weak. Keeping good eye contact and limiting loud gestures are great ways to maintain that middle ground.
- Be respectful of yourself and others. In most work environments, the actions of one affect the entire group, and absent this key consideration, assertiveness crosses a line and becomes aggressive behavior.
- Be flexible. Things might not work out perfectly every time, and that’s okay. By allowing yourself some wiggle room, you avoid being labeled as too stubborn.
- OFFER SOLUTIONS! Perhaps you can be of help in another way that is less intrusive of your top priorities? Show that you’re making an effort to be as accommodating and helpful as you can.
Have you been put in a situation at the office that required you to be assertive? How did it turn out for you? What other tips might you offer? Please feel free to share your comments in the space below.