Assertive communication is a key interpersonal skill that every manager should master. For the most part, the long-term success of managers, both in their personal and professional lives, is as dependent upon interpersonal skills as it is upon intelligence or technical skills.
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of confusion around what assertive behaviour means exactly. Some people just think it is the ability to say ‘no’. Whereas, others may confuse this behaviour with aggression. For example, an assertive person could be perceived to always get what they want. Or, be the one who has the loudest voice and ‘calls the shots’. So what does it really mean?
What is Assertive Communication?
Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts, feelings and wishes and stand up for your rights, without violating the rights of others.
Indeed, this is but one definition of assertiveness and one that I particularly like. Overall, it balances both my rights and the rights of others. On the other hand, when I am aggressive, I make sure that my ideas and opinions are heard but I ignore or override the ‘other’. Conversely, when I am passive or submissive in behaviour, I ensure that everyone else’s ideas and opinions are heard, but I suppress or ignore my own thoughts and ideas.
Particularly, many women fall into the latter category. As nurturers, we are hard-wired to be constantly aware of the needs of others and work hard to address these needs. Sadly, we are often unaware of our own feelings and needs, until we experience ‘burn-out’.
Why Is Assertiveness an Essential Skill for Managers?
1. It facilitates clear communication
When managers are assertive, they are clear about needs and requirements. In effect, this reduces the need for conflict and confrontations down the line.
2. It reduces stress
Feelings of frustration and resentment are not bottled up. Consequently, feelings are expressed in an appropriate way and problems are dealt with ‘at source’ and not allowed to fester. As a result, team members can communicate as one adult to another.
3. It helps to define boundaries
Assertive managers are able to define what is acceptable and what is not. Ultimately, boundaries keep work-places safe.
4. It improves team morale
Team members learn to communicate with one another in a respectful way. If and only if the manager is communicating with them respectfully. Obviously, team members may not always agree with one another. But, they need to be respectful of one another.
5. It builds self-esteem & self-worth
Managers who are assertive are confident leaders. This means the team knows where they stand on an issue, but they are not inflexible. In short, they are open & willing to listen. As managers, they will have to make a decision and follow through.
6. It encourages innovation
Assertive managers are able to provide teams with a safe space to explore new ideas. Effectively, this encourages team members to ask “Why? Why are we doing it this way, is there a better way?”
7. It underpins negotiation skills
Importantly, if you are not able to verbalise what you need or want with clarity and conviction, you will forever be at the mercy of someone else’s needs and desires. For this reason. knowing how to be assertive is essential when entering any negotiation.
If you consider the reasons above, there is no doubt that assertiveness is a valuable soft skill worth pursuing. However, we may well ask, why is being assertive so problematic to achieve?
Why Is It So Difficult to Be Assertive?
Approach speaking confidently as if it were a sport. This means, practice speaking skills the way that you would practice a sport. It requires repetition and physical skill.
1. Exposure to poor parental modeling.
Our communication style forms by observing and modelling our parents or primary caregivers. Therefore, we tend to adopt and internalise their behaviour.
Some of you may be exposed to mature ways of behaving that you are fortunate to learn from. But, the majority of us had parents or caregivers, who either used aggression or submission as a way of coping with conflict. This is what we witness and, as a result, this is what we model as adults.
Thankfully, once you know a better way, you now can choose which communication style you use in your day-to-day.
2. We receive very powerful messages from society and the culture and environment we find ourselves in, about how we ‘should’ behave.
The schools, religious institutions, society and the culture in which we live, play a significant role in deciding which behaviour is acceptable and which is not. For instance, I attended an all-girls’ high school in which the following William Shakespeare quote, was boldly displayed upon the library wall:
“Her voice was ever soft, Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.” King Lear Act 5, Scene 3
Clearly, this would not encourage women to speak up and to voice their opinions in a powerful way.
4. Our own poor self-concept
A poor self-concept directly affects our ability to be assertive. In this case, we may believe that our needs are not valid or that no-one will listen to us, even if we speak out. For this reason, we struggle to respect ourselves enough to demand respect and attention from others.
Start Learning Assertive Behaviour
Learning assertive behaviour is very liberating. You no longer agree to do tasks which are not part of your workload. Ultimately, this frees you to do the work you are meant to be doing!
Additionally, you don’t please others in order to be liked. Rather, your opinion is sought after and respected. Above all, you avoid resentfully sitting in the ‘wee’ hours of the morning completing that report you were bullied into writing because you were a ‘push-over’ and were afraid to say ‘no’. As Steven Bartlett, the Founder and CEO of Social Chain – an integrated social media company, says:
“When you start standing up for yourself and setting clear boundaries, you don’t lose real friends, real opportunities and real relationships… you lose abusers, manipulators, narcissists, control freaks, attention seekers, and mental-health destroying leeches.”
So, where does this leave us? What can we do to communicate more assertively? If you want to learn how then contact us at email@example.com or on www.accents.co.za for more information on our valuable training program.