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How to be assertive in the workplace

Sue Hampson - Last Update: 07 Oct 2021

Contents

What is assertiveness?

How to manage requests from the wider business

How to deal with conflict from others in your team

How to increase productivity with individuals in your team

How to practise being assertive

 

Managing a team isn’t always easy but how can you make sure you’re always getting the best out of your employees and apprentices?

Being assertive can put you in good stead, making you a trusted leader or manager and someone that the team respects. 

When you feel empowered to drive your team forward and make decisions for the wellbeing of everyone, your self-confidence will increase, and you’ll feel less stressed when it comes to having difficult conversations with those around you. 

What is assertiveness?

There are four types of assertiveness:

  • Passive – not standing up for yourself
  • Aggressive – becoming abusive verbally or physically
  • Passive-aggressive – appearing passive on the surface but simmering with anger underneath
  • Assertive –a direct and honest approach 

No matter what type of assertiveness you identify with now, it’s always possible to change your behaviour to become more assertive. 

Rather than letting things slip by as a passive person would or reacting in a selfish way as an aggressive person might, assertive people are direct and honest – they state the facts without attacking another person’s character. 

Why do managers need to be assertive?

As a manager, you are often seen as responsible for driving the performance of your team. 

When you can be assertive with your team members, you can set clear boundaries and expectations, and remain firm in your beliefs. 

Here are some examples that you might come up against in the workplace. 

How to manage requests from the wider business

Managing expectations from your superiors can set a positive example for the rest of your team and help them balance their workload.

When your line manager, or training advisor, gives you a tight deadline on a project, be honest and ask for more time if you know you or your team can’t reach it.

Justify the reasons why it won’t be possible to have the work completed in the amount of time given and use a ‘Positive No’ to back this up.

A ‘Positive No’ is a way of pushing back without being either passive or aggressive. In fact, a ‘Positive No’ is a firm way of showing that you’re an assertive person.

You can either:

  • Say no, followed by an honest explanation (e.g. ‘I can’t meet that deadline, Sunita, as we’re already working on multiple other projects right now.’)
  • Say no, and give an alternative (e.g. ‘We can’t meet the deadline for this week, Mohammed, but we can certainly have it with you the week after.)

Giving an honest explanation or offering an alternative shows that you’re not just saying no because you want to disregard their request.

You’re saying no for a valid reason and sticking up for your team in the process, refusing to put them under undue pressure.

One last tip here - try not to use the word ‘should’ when you’re trying to be assertive. It can make you look unsure of what you’re going to achieve and may see people losing faith in you. Use ‘will’ where you can - a more definitive word that shows you’re committed to your work.

Key takeaways:

  • Manage expectations from your superiors to help your team balance their workload
  • Use a ‘Positive No’ to push back on unrealistic expectations
  • Use the word ‘will’, not ‘should’

Managing expectations promotes equality

Confidently managing the expectations around your business will create a fairer working environment within your team. You have firmly set boundaries with a positive no, which creates balance and co operation between your team and people around the business.

Your persistence to establish fairness is, according to report "Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Behavior", published in 2008 by Alberti & Emmons, an "...action intended to promote equality in person-to-person relationships."

Your assertiveness creates a fairer working culture, so never be afraid to use a positive no.

Employers are awarded up to £4,000 for each apprentice they recruit*

*The Welsh Government employer incentive promises £4,000 for every apprentice recruited who are between 16-24 years old and up to £2,000 for every apprentice over the age of 25.

If you'd like to know more about the employer incentive scheme, download our flyer, or send us your details and we'll get in touch.

How to deal with conflict from others in your team

If you find yourself in a disagreement with someone in your team, there are a few ways you can be assertive and show your authority, without putting the other person down.

Voice your needs and wants confidently, leading your sentences with an ‘I’ statement e.g. ‘I feel that you’re not co-operating with the rest of the team, Bogdan,’ rather than attacking the person’s character e.g. ‘You’re not being a team player, Gethin’ which might make someone instantly defensive.

Try to have empathy with the other person and see things from their point of view, listening to their case respectfully and staying calm, rather than talking over them or not letting them have a say.

Stick to the facts before you, rather than making any general statements like ‘You’re always putting yourself first.’ This might be a false claim and will also see the other party feeling worse about themselves which will escalate the conflict further. Separate the behaviour from the individual character to avoid making the situation worse.

Key takeaways:

  • Confidently voice your needs and wants
  • Use ‘I’ statements
  • Stick to the facts, rather than making any general statements

How to increase productivity with individuals in your team

During a 1:1 with one of your team members, you might find the opportunity to help them be more productive or give them feedback to increase their performance.

The key here is effective communication.

Using ‘I’ statements is recommended here, as well as using XYZ statements which make the conversation situation-specific. Think of it this way:

  • X = when did the event take place?
  • Y = what happened?
  • Z = how did it make you feel?

For example, if an employee was regularly late to important meetings, you’d say something like:

‘Nala, I noticed that you were late for a number of important meetings on Monday and Tuesday this week. In being late, you missed the introductions and therefore didn’t know who anyone was throughout the rest of the meeting. I believe that if you can make a concerted effort to show up on time, you can really make a difference in those meetings as you have plenty of good points to put forward.’

 

This keeps the conversation specific, rather than veering off into an unhelpful narrative of ‘Leo, you’re always late and it makes everyone look unprofessional.’

Remember to include positive feedback where you can too - being assertive doesn’t always have to be negative!

Key takeaways:

  • The key here is effective communication
  • Use XYZ statements
  • Include positive feedback where you can

How to practise being assertive

In your spare time, you can work on building up your assertiveness every day.

If you don’t feel comfortable being assertive in the workplace straight away, why not practice it in a space you do feel comfortable? That could be using a ‘Positive No’ when a friend asks you to come out for drinks that you don’t have time for or using ‘I’ statements to communicate to your partner that it would be helpful if they took the bins out once in a while. Start small and build yourself up.

You can also build up your own self-worth by reflecting on what you have to offer as a manager. Make a list of your achievements and what makes you right for your role to build up your self-confidence and start seeing yourself as a true leader.

The more assertive you can be in the workplace, the more you’ll be respected by those around you.