Continuing the Training Theme
These days, the topic of interacting assertively preoccupies me. Like handling difficult conversations, this subject seems of increasing interest amongst employees everywhere. Not sure what that’s all about… What I do know is my wish: Namely, that you will find my approach to assertiveness “training” as intriguing as have recent participants.
Making Key Distinctions
In standard form first, let’s place three common terms on a continuum: assertive (middle), unassertive (left) and aggressive (right).
According to the Oxford English Reference Dictionary, the verb “to assert” means to declare, to state clearly. It encompasses insistence on one’s rights or opinions in forthright and positive ways.
Aggression is the act or practice of attacking without provocation. With a tendency toward hostile or destructive behaviour, aggression has a forceful quality to it. On the other hand, to be unassertive is to be somewhat reticent. It is the avoidance or holding back of saying all one knows or feels through a disposition to silence.
While seen by some as power-full, aggression is as power-less as unassertiveness. Believe me from personal experience. If I may admit, I learned passivity across my teens/twenties until the rediscovery of my voice across the next two decades. At first, I zoomed right past assertiveness after being mouse-like for so many years. Until finally arriving at true assertiveness in my fifties, I volleyed more scattergun “shots” at various targets than should be counted. Not proudly.
Inner versus Outer Assertiveness
Small consolation – I’m not alone in this common trap. Many miss the proverbial middle ground in their quest for balance between not wanting to offend while maintaining one’s inner center.
To help you manage this paradox, let me borrow from Marci Shimoff’s fine work in Happy for No Reason. Her writing about being happy from the inside out inspired me to offer this suite of inwardly assertive qualities: inner well-being; aliveness; self-esteem; the ability to let go and forgive; acceptance; gratitude; and a sense of purpose.
One group recently remarked this seems a rather ideal list! I hear you. It’s not that we need be these things every day. Rather, we strive for inner peace as one half of a potent equation:
Calm + Clear = Assertive
Where inner assertiveness shines forth as serenity, clarity is associated with a series of outward expressions. These are evidenced in: facial expression (open); eye contact (appropriately direct); body posture (strong but no hands on hips, pointed index finger or other “critical” stances); voice quality (varied); and pace of speech (moderate).
The Top Ten List
You likely recognize assertiveness tips such as: be direct (deliver your message confidently); be specific (eliminate non-value-adding details); be brief (get to the point); and be consistent (avoid being a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where those around you can never guess whether the nice or evil one showed up to work that day).
What you might not have been exposed to are these ten statements that combine inner with outer assertiveness. Please rate yourself from 1 (Don’t Know), 2 (Rarely/Never), 3 (Sometimes), 4 (Mostly) to 5 (Always):1)
- Is able to say “no” with sensitivity when called for.
- States unpopular perspectives with courage but without alienating.
- Demonstrates high professional standards with diverse audiences.
- Leaves others’ self-worth intact even after difficult interactions.
- Asks useful questions when seeking to fact-find in challenging situations.
- Responds neutrally (doesn’t take it personally) when encountering resistance.
- Conveys confidence when interacting one-on-one.
- Remains centered inside of self even when feeling “attacked”.
- Avoids “passing the buck” onto others when performing own duties.
- Builds positive relationships to create a motivational climate to get the job done.
Do any of these questions surprise you, in terms of “asserting artfully”? No matter your answer, I see assertiveness as a “life skill” we can all afford to continuously hone.
Given how often the unacceptability of “bullying” shows up on TV talk shows lately, I derive great hope for the workplace from this trend. Perhaps, if my Grade 6 classmates had appreciated how traumatizing was their meanness toward those unprepared to defend themselves, we may have fewer corporate “bullies” (male and female) today! Allow me to therefore leave you thinking about Marian Wright Edelman’s words that point out how our character shapes our destiny:
“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”