Assertiveness Can Lead To Career Success


Years ago, when I was being recruited by a major southern bank, they flew my wife and I down to Charlotte to become better acquainted with the city and to pitch us on accepting the position.   On the flight I sat in the middle seat and my wife sat on the aisle.  A man came to our row and switched his gaze between his ticket, my wife and the seat numbers below the carry on storage.  After about one minute of doing this, my curiosity was piqued and I asked him if I could assist.  I will never forget his response: “I must be mistaken but my ticket says I have this aisle seat, but because your wife is sitting there I must be wrong.”  We looked at my wife’s ticket and she promptly moved to the window, her correct seat.  This was my introduction to the indirect, nonassertive nature of southern communication.  A New Jerseyan would have simply said “Hey that’s my seat, get up!” 

In that scenario, and in the workplace, it is best to strike a measured balance between a passive and aggressive approach.  The following tips will help you strike the right balance and help you show your metal and get what you deserve.

1.       To be assertive you must have an end in mind.  Knowing what you want allows you to be authentically firm and keep you from equivocating under pressure. 

2.       Prepare what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.  Preparation will imbue you with additional confidence and help you deliver your message more effectively.  Without preparing you may get nervous and be too passive or too aggressive.

3.       Pick the right time and place.  Many people become nervous when they need to be assertive and end up making their case in passing or as an after-thought. If you want a raise, a new office or an internal job transfer schedule the conversation with the right person and take it to a neutral site if appropriate. 

4.       Be direct.  Don’t beat around the bush.  For example you can say “I want to move into the open office.”  Whether or not your request is granted the other person will respect your directness.

5.       Be clear in your requests by making them time and result specific.  Instead of “I need the project completed soon” say “I need all the data entered and scrubbed for errors by 12:00 Friday.” 

6.       Confirm directions via email.  If you are giving directions, ask the people you are directing to send you an email confirming the details of your conversation.  When having an important conversation with your boss, send them the email.  The follow up ensures a shared understanding and minimizes confusion and future pain.

7.       Don’t confuse the issue.  Stay focused on your goals and don’t let the issue become confused.  For example, if you are seeking completion by an employee of a project, don’t let them change the subject to another employee who they perceive is the problem. 

8.       Use I statements.  “I” means it is your opinion, belief or request.  It places you in an assertive position where you take responsibility for your actions.

9.       Have Positive Body Language.   Use a strong handshake and strong body language.  Stand or sit up straight, look the person in the eye and keep your body open (don’t cross your arms and legs).  Be sure not to point or to get too close since those are signs of aggressive behavior.

These tips will help you become a more effective leader, employee and coworker and get what you want out of your job.  Its time to get out of the back seat and begin driving the bus!


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