Assertiveness in the workplace

Luxury lifestyle expert Paul Russell helps individuals to navigate professional and social situations with ease. Paul offered this advice on being assertive in the workplace.

They’re very assertive you might hear someone say with a sneer, using assertive as a euphemism for overbearing, aggressive and rude. But assertiveness doesn’t mean any of these things. Being assertive means communicating your thoughts, feelings and ideas effectively and in turn hearing these from others. When you’re assertive you will not only have greater self-esteem and more honest relationships with those around you, but you will be better able to deal with the potential stress of the workplace. We look at how to make assertiveness work for you.

The biggest pitfall in assertive behaviour is not understanding that it is a two way process. Assertiveness is, in effect, a communication style; a way that we choose to communicate with others that allows us to express our genuine needs and wants. All too often though, people get far too caught up in their own part of assertiveness. They become entirely wrapped up in saying what they want to say and asserting their rights that they forget the other fundamental part of assertiveness- which is realising that others have these rights too. Without this understanding, assertiveness can quickly descend into unhelpful workplace behaviours like aggression and conflict.

We shouldn’t be afraid to be assertive, but we should use it wisely. When we are assertive, we must expect and plan for others to be assertive too. This means knowing how to listen properly, not just wait for your moment to talk again but genuinely listen and hear what is being said. Take a moment, think it through and don’t be afraid to say that you think it would be useful to schedule a time or meeting to discuss things further to give you a little more time to process the information.

Another misconception of assertiveness is that it means winning; if you are assertive and say what you think should happen then this will be the outcome but this isn’t necessarily the case. With assertiveness comes both negotiation and compromise. You are giving your thoughts and hearing those of others and from here you need to develop a plan that works for all parties. Often assertiveness fails because people are quite happy to start the conversation, yet don’t have the skills to finish it effectively. Empathy is key, if you can look at a scenario from someone else’s perspective then you have a better chance of understanding how you might be able to resolve things successfully.

Of course, assertiveness isn’t always about solving issues or dealing with negativity, you can be proactively assertive about positive things too. This means speaking up in meetings, saying what you think will work and being generally open, honest and clear about your ideas as well as receptive and encouraging of others. People respond well to this open communication style and when you utilise assertiveness in this way, it can help you to develop stronger relationships with those around you and engender greater support.

Those that avoid assertiveness do so for any number of reasons but the main one is that they fear it will escalate into conflict as this is something that they feel ill-equipped for. It is useful to remember that not only does everyone have a right to express their opinions in a calm, clear and controlled way but that they also have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. If you are being assertive in the right way as part of a two way process, then there is no reason for it to escalate into conflict. In the majority of cases, when others see that you are ready to listen and you demonstrate this both through your verbal and non-verbal communication, then they too will be ready to be appropriately assertive.

Learning to use assertive behaviour means changing how you think about communication. Whilst avoiding situations might seem like a sensible option to keep the peace, it can actually lead to greater issues further down the line. Assertive communication doesn’t mean that you have to reveal every single thought and feeling that you possess, but that you feel able to share your opinion and in turn hear the opinions of others. This is fundamental to not only successful communication, but effective working relationships. Whether you veer too much towards aggression or too much towards avoidance, both behaviours are ultimately unhelpful at work. Learning to be assertive in an appropriate way takes time, but training in communication and conflict management can absolutely give you the confidence to utilise assertiveness to excellent effect in the workplace.

Paul Russell is a luxury expert and etiquette coach who works with private clients and high net worth individuals in the art of correct behaviour.  He is co-founder and managing director of Luxury Academy, a multi-national company, specialising in soft skills training for the luxury market. Luxury Academy have offices in London, Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. Prior to founding Luxury Academy, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and speaker, Paul regularly delivers keynotes globally on a variety of luxury and behavioural topics.

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