Don’t confuse being assertive with being aggressive, says leadership expert Karen Gately. The difference is one gets your point across, the other damages relationships. How can you avoid the latter and find the right style?
Do you take a firm stance when needed? Do you speak up when you feel uncomfortable or unhappy? Are you able to effectively engage in robust debate and influence difficult decisions? Are you assertive when saying no or expressing your opinion? Consider the impact your ability to be assertive has on both your performance and happiness at work.
Put simply, assertiveness is a communication style characterised by open and respectful expression of your point of view. In contrast, aggressive behaviour violates the rights of other people leading to damaged relationships and broken communication. On the other hand, being passive violates our own rights – for example, to be treated with respect and decency, have an opinion and share our ideas.
While of course it’s important to be flexible and open to shifting your position, just as important at times is your ability to hold your ground. Assertiveness is influenced by the way we think and reflected in our behaviour. Among the most important things you can do to be more assertive are:
1. Have self-respect and honour your rights
Appreciate that we all have the right to be safe and protect ourselves from harm. This includes defending ourselves against behaviours that pose a threat to our physical and mental wellbeing. We have the right to say no and ask questions. Focusing on your right to speak your mind and make your own decisions will shift your thinking and help you to find greater courage to be assertive in all areas of your life.
2. Value your own contribution
How often do you know you are right – and yet you hesitate to challenge the thinking of your colleagues, manager or clients? In these moments, focus on the value your knowledge and skills can add to the organisation or situation, if only you will allow them to be applied. Allowing fear to hold you back from sharing your insights limits the value you can add. Recognise when you are the expert or have value to add and speak up.
3. Observe your thoughts
We all have conversations in our minds that influence how we feel and the actions we ultimately take. Do you, for example, doubt your own point of view or believe pushing back will inevitably lead to conflict? Do you at times fear being embarrassed if you speak up? Understanding the thoughts that go through your mind and hold you back from asserting yourself is the first step towards changing them.
4. Challenge unhelpful thoughts
It is common for people to hold firm beliefs about themselves or circumstances that are based on little to no evidence. Question the validity of your thoughts by critically assessing their truth or otherwise. Examine the evidence for and against the thoughts that erode your confidence. Pay close attention to the undermining influences some have on your ability to act with strength and conviction.
5. Change your thoughts
For some of us, simply being aware can be enough to shift our thinking. For most people however, it takes time and discipline to change the thought patterns that hold us back. Make managing your thoughts an everyday priority and you are more likely to recognise when they are enabling or undermining your efforts. Catch undermining thoughts before they become negative emotions and you are more likely to find the strength you need to be assertive.