Assertiveness. The ability to express yourself in an appropriately honest manner, defining your expectations in terms of ability, potential, resources, and timelines to set healthy personal boundaries.
Being assertive is a quality held by all top leaders. It promotes productivity, performance, commitment, and respect within the team. It creates a culture of collaboration and accountability, along with giving a framework to tackle stressful or conflict situations and resolve them before they escalate.
It is something that all leaders strive for yet often they fall short. For some, fear of the potential consequences or hurting someone causes us to withdraw from the situation or bite their tongue. The downside of this is that they backpack our frustrations until one day it becomes to much and they lash out at someone who has no idea what they’ve done. Alternatively, some lack the confidence or skills to devise the appropriate approach to resolve the situation. The result of this is they take a passive-aggressive approach, using sarcasm or becoming ulterior. In this instance, the recipient is unsure of the sincerity of the request, leaving them confused. Finally, in all of their efforts to be assertive, they overshoot their target and communicate in a manner which is perceived as blunt, abrasive, and “bossy”.
So how do we put ourselves in a position to have assertive communication in all of our interactions? These three steps will help!
Step 1: Be analytical
Emotions often influence our interactions, causing us to lose our ability to be assertive. Before engaging in the situation, stop for a moment. Pausing is a mental trigger that causes you to reset, silencing your negative thinking and shifting you to an alternative, but positive, direction. The goal is to reach a “Position of Independence”, which requires us to consciously commit to tune in to the situation. Who are we dealing with? What have they said so far? Do we understand their perspective? By asking these questions, we are able to distinguish facts from emotion, as well as challenge our perceptions by asking ourselves why we are responding the way we are. This gives us the freedom to control the direction we want to take.
Step 2: Make clear, direct statements
First, consider what you want to walk away with at the end of the interaction. We want to focus on our objective as it gives us control of the conversation. In defining our objective, consider SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and/or timely. Use questions or statements that clearly define the purpose of the interaction. Examples would be: “What steps are necessary to reduce spending by 1%?” or “I think we need to reduce the amount of printer ink we use.” When asking questions, try to avoid using why. Why is often perceived as implying blame, putting others into a defensive position while how, what, when, where are objective and encourage collaboration and engagement.
Step 3: Consider who you are interacting with
On any given day we have a preferred communication style influences by our preferences and emotions. Of course, the reverse is true as well! Perceptions and emotions are the most likely causes of falling short of your goal. Acknowledge emotion while remaining focused on the objective. This may require asking to continue a conversation at a later time. As mentioned above, why is an emotional hook for many people. Be aware of both your hooks and others and avoid them through clarifying questions.