There’s an art to getting what you want in life – and at work in particular – without being a jerk. Without whining or yelling or losing your cool. It’s all about learning to be assertive. Assertiveness is a skill that takes time to cultivate, but it’s a quality that can dramatically enhance your relationships in and out of the office.
We all run into conflict in the workplace. There’s that colleague who always interrupts you. That team member who’s late to every meeting. That manager who just can’t seem to make a decision. Most of us would love to be able to assert ourselves and say what’s on our minds to correct such situations. To express our frustrations and clear the air.
But because we don’t want to argue or rock the boat or risk hurting anyone’s feelings, we don’t. In fact, being assertive can feel so unnatural to some of us that we simply back down and let the annoyances continue. And when that happens, we can end up feeling frustrated, trapped, and even depressed because we’re not getting the release we need.
But fear not: research says there’s hope for the chronically unassertive! First, let’s discuss…
The four styles of dealing with other people
Every style of dealing with others is based in some way on the idea of control:
- Passive people feel they have no control over others. And because they give in to avoid conflict, they also feel they have no control over themselves.
- Aggressive people are the opposite. They have control over themselves – but they also think they should be able to control others. They typically do this through intimidation. In the short term, it often works. In the long term, however, most people flee aggressive types.
- Passive-aggressive people have control over themselves. And they also want to control others… but they don’t want to pay the price of being direct. They don’t want to be seen as aggressive and they don’t want to be indebted to others after asking for things. They play mind games to get what they want. They’re manipulative – and people catch on pretty quick.
- Assertive people are able to control their own behavior without feeling the need to control the behavior of others. They know how to get what they want while preserving their relationships. They’ve found the “Goldilocks zone” – a perfect balance between self-confidence and respect of others.
A few tips on how to become more assertive
- Don’t be afraid to say no. People are afraid that saying no is selfish. It most definitely is not. Saying no is a way of setting boundaries, and having boundaries is vital to having healthy relationships. Always saying yes makes you seem like a pushover. No one can say yes to everything and still be respected.
- Let go of guilt. Being assertive can be tough – especially if you’ve been a people pleaser most of your life. Be honest and tell others how you feel or what you want without making accusations or making them feel guilty.
- Learn to ask for things. If you want something, as an assertive person, you’re going to have to ask for it. Without apologizing or putting yourself down. And as long as you make requests and not demands when you ask, you’ll be respecting the autonomy of others – that’s how assertiveness works.
- Take a problem-solving approach.Confront issues by trying to see the other person as your friend, not your enemy. When conflict arises, understand and accept that your goal, nine times out of ten, will simply be to get the other person to change a certain aspect of their behavior, not their entire personality.
- Be patient.It takes time and practice to become more assertive. People will push back initially. They’re going to be used to the old you. And that’s fine. As we’ve said, you can’t change their behavior, only yours. But once you start being more assertive, you’ll become a more encouraging and supportive colleague, partner, employee, and friend. And suddenly, people will discover who you really are – and love you more for it.