I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was in the 80’s when ‘assertiveness‘ first began to be bandied about as a work-place skill.
(Maybe I’m wrong about it being the 80’s and I’m simply making a false connection between big hair, shoulder-pads and power-dressing!). Anyway, I was in the Civil Service at the time and remember going to the Civil Service College at Sunningdale where we benefited from a Junior Management course which contained a whole module on ‘assertiveness’. Particular care was taken in demonstrating to use the difference between assertiveness and aggression, between assertion and ‘pushiness’ and between self-assuredness and being opinionated.
Of course, for some people, (and no prizes for guessing which colour energy I’m talking about here) assertiveness comes easily. But for others assertiveness is a skill to be learned and rehearsed.
Anyone can be assertive. The trick is to come across to the target audience as genuine, applying just the right amount of ‘force’ to get your point across without seeming over-emotional, aggressive or bossy. Of course, knowing yourself, warts- and-all, provides a really good starting point. Through self-awareness we can understand those aspects of our characters that will hinder or assist us in being assertive; those aspects of our preferred behavioural style that we need to either draw upon or suppress.
Whatever our colour energy mix, (even predominantly Red, remember effective assertiveness can involve reigning in the energies as well as turning up the gas!) there are some simple, practical steps that can be taken to help us get the right balance and achieve the results we are looking for.
1) Make the decision
Let’s get one thing straight right away. You are going to have to genuinely want to be assertive. It’s no good just doing it because you think you should or because someone tells you that you need to work on your assertiveness. If it’s a show, it won’t work and people will see through you. If you really don’t want to be assertive, then you won’t be. You’ll be something else. But continue below for more help.
2) Be clear about what you want to achieve
Acknowledge those personal traits that are going to get in the way of your assertiveness. Recognise that these are going to be of little help and might get in the way. Make a conscious effort to lock these feelings away for a while whilst you compile a list of positives.
Now look at those behaviours or attitudes that will help you, for example strong principles or beliefs, a sense of fairness and justice, wanting to be part of the debate or decision-making process. Think about how these can help you achieve your goal of assertiveness.
3) Work on your presence
Being assertive does not only involve choosing which words you want to say. Your whole body language, tone of voice, and general conduct will be sending out subliminal messages that will be sub-consciously picked up by your target audience. (Remember, ‘we cannot not communicate’ and every human being on the planet is an unsung expert at reading non-verbal communication signals). So you will need to be confident that you are sending out a consistent message using all the communication ‘channel’ at the same time.
Try practising and get feedback, enlisting the help of trusted friends and colleagues. (By the way, this is relevant to everyone as some people will need to tone down their presence to reduce the likelihood of coming across as aggressive.)
Learn from the feedback and teach yourself to calibrate the levels of voice tone, body language and words until you have found your own recipe for assertiveness, something that works for you.
4) Learn to refuse
One of the toughest things to do in the workplace is to say ‘no‘. Whether you are in a managerial or subordinate role, saying ‘no’ just doesn’t seem to come naturally (perhaps especially for dominant Earth Greens). Make sure you are comfortable with your decision and have a good reason for turning down the request. State your reason firmly but unemotionally, and try to maintain eye contact. Avoid going down the slippery slope of making excuses or providing further justification and maintain a steady tone of voice. Again, rehearsing and receiving feedback can be a valuable tool for developing technique and confidence.
5) Learn from role models
There will be people around you who you admire for their assertiveness. Watch and learn from them. Try to identify what it is about their behaviour that makes them so good at being assertive, maybe their voice tone, posture, eye contact or just the way they reassure whilst saying ‘no’. Whatever it is, compile a list of ‘top tips’ from the people who do it naturally and try them out for size. Not every approach will work for you but you should be able to pick up some real nuggets of gold that you can build into your own approach.
6) Take time to reflect and assess your progress
Get into the habit of reflecting and assessing how you manage situations that require assertiveness (perhaps most difficult for the Yellow/Red combinations, both of which may struggle with perceptions of over-assertiveness or aggression). Did you get the outcome you wanted? What could have been better? How might you approach a similar situation next time? Don’t be put off by failure, learn from mistakes and adapt the approach so that next time it works better. Try this little reflective exercise:
Last time X happened, I did Y and this resulted in Z, which was not good for me. So, next time X happens, I’m going to do A. I’m not sure what the result will be, but at least it won’t be Z!
Assertiveness will mean different things to different people and the way we assert ourselves will depend upon our starting point, those colour energies that are naturally within our gift and those that we lack. We are all individual so there will never be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Rather it is a case of concocting our own recipe for success from those techniques and tools that we can identify and develop, moulding them into a behavioural pattern that fits our personalities so well, that we can behave in a genuinely and authentically assertive manner, without offending others, but getting the results we are seeking.
Follow these links for mindfulness, engagement, leadership, handling the awkward meeting, team working, saying no and influence
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