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Do you consider yourself to be assertive? And what does being assertive mean to you? Does it mean exercising your rights all the time, every time? Or does it mean knowing when to let someone else or some other cause or outcome take precedence over your rights?
Is the boss who places a pile of work on an employee’s desk the afternoon before that employee goes on vacation being assertive? Or, is the employee who is about to go on vacation being assertive when she tells the boss that the work will be done upon her return?
It’s not always easy to identify truly assertive behavior. This is because there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. Some definitions are helpful when trying to separate the two:
- Assertiveness is based on balance. It requires being forthright about your wants and needs while still considering the rights, needs, and wants of others. When you are assertive, you ask for what you want but you don’t necessarily get it.
- Aggressive behavior is based on winning. It requires that you do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others. When you are aggressive, you take what you want regardless, and you don’t usually ask.
So, that boss was being aggressive. Yes, he had work that needed to be done. However, by dumping it on his employee at such an inappropriate time, he showed a total lack of regard for the needs and feeling of his employee.
The employee on the other hand, demonstrated assertive behavior when she informed her boss that the work would be done, but it would be done after she returned from vacation. She asserted her rights while recognizing her boss’ need to get the job done.
Being assertive is not necessarily easy, but it is a skill that can be learned through assertive communication training. Developing your assertiveness starts with a good understanding of who you are and a belief in the value you bring. When you have that, you have the basis of self-confidence. Assertiveness helps to build on that self-confidence and provides many other benefits for improving your relationships at work and in other areas of your life as well.
In general, assertive people:
- Get to “win-win” more easily – they see the value in their opponent and in his/her position, and can quickly find common ground.
- Are better problem solvers – they feel empowered to do whatever it takes to find the best solution.
- Are less stressed – they know they have personal power and they don’t feel threatened or victimized when things don’t go as planned or expected.
- Are doers – they get things done because they know they can.
When you act assertively you act fairly and with empathy. The power you use comes from your self-assurance and not from intimidation or bullying. When you treat others with such fairness and respect, you get that same treatment in return. You are well liked and people see you as a leader and someone they want to work with.