Leanna Cruz, Editorial Director
If you have not experienced it you’ve at least heard of the conundrum: A man acting assertively in the workplace gets a pat on the back and a reputation for being a leader with great ideas. A woman, however, gets the reputation of being an emotional (rhymes with rich). We are still dealing with double standards. Overcoming this one relies on men realizing that women can be as assertive as men and should be if they want to work collaboratively toward the best ideas. And, women should not try to fit in and be like them, but instead quickly learn the communication skills that best suit them to get their points heard. It may require a one-on-one meeting rather than a group meeting, it may require repetition rather than a single presentation followed by frustration, or it require listening to, and hearing, all other points and input first, then effectively presenting yours.
Being assertive without being overbearing or aggressive is tricky business. The line between assertive and abrasive is separated by emotion, tone, word choice, a willingness to listen and the ability to clearly present your point from the receiver’s perspective. So it is a learned skilled. It must be practiced. And those who learn it well, win.
Being gently persistent, patient and even temporarily passive, waiting for the most opportune time, are all important and necessary to get your point heard. Notice these are all traits stereotypically used to describe women. So it’s not necessarily that women are not strong enough, they just play smarter and end up with more willing allies.
It boils down to effective communication skills. When you feel you have valid and critical information it is your responsibility to share it and make sure it is heard. Keeping the information to your self is irresponsible especially if sharing it will result in improvement. Even if the improvement does not directly affect you.
Stifling your thoughts because no one is listening will not only result in a lost opportunity for your team, but also affect the way you work and interact with your colleagues. The result is usually anger and resentment, and the perception that they are incompetent and insensitive. Soon even the little things annoy you, and eventually you explode in a torrent of rage at the agitator. Not a good reaction for relationship development and not a great way to build a reputation.
So, how can you learn to be assertive and avoid this boiling point? Identify the small, subtle things that will help you get heard and command attention, instead of trying to demand attention and ultimately come across as aggressive.
There is no doubt that being consider assertive is more desirable between the two choices, so Dan Bobinski, president and CEO of Leadership Development Inc., starts you off with a checklist of characteristics of an assertive person:
ü makes affable and considerate eye contact,
ü has confident body language matching the message,
ü states opinion but considers others’ perspectives,
ü willing to listen and collaborate,
ü considers others equal to self,
ü avoids offending others, and
ü strives to reach common goals
He summarizes the list stating that being assertive means standing up for your values and beliefs without walking on other people. So you’ll also need to consider the perspective of other people.
Most corporations have committed lots of resources toward diversity and will now focus on effective collaboration of the new diverse workforce. Effective collaboration and communication will require that you not only recognize differences, but also respect them in order to produce the best outcome. Though most advice focuses on being other focused – tolerance for ambiguity, flexibility, setting aside assumptions and judgments, seeing other points of view – but you must also focus on your communication skills in order to get your points heard, particularly if those on your team have not developed effective communication skills, such as you are doing.
If you struggle with being assertive, don’t worry—you are not alone. The best advice is to
learn and practice effective communication skills and the value of timing. The July issue of Positively Successful will tackle several aspects of effective communication in the age of technology, off sight working arrangements, new avenues of collaboration and diversity. If you have the right idea it needs to be heard. Your choice of words, your tone, your timing and a location of presentation will all affect how receptive others are to your ideas.
Assertiveness is a skill you will need to develop to continue to be effective and experience career advancement.