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Managing Emotions at the Workplace (2): Communicating confidently with a tough boss

What is assertive behaviour?

Assertiveness is the middle ground between aggression and passivity. It is about reasonable behaviour and finding solutions that suit both sides. Assertiveness means:

  • Acknowledging your own feelings to yourself (“My boss gives me bits and pieces of tasks without total responsibility of the entire project, and I am feeling restless and unfulfilled”);
  • Understanding you have a right to (professional) respect, at the same time owing respect to other person;
  • Having a right to speak your mind and asking for what  you want;
  • Being clear about what you want (which is reasonable and fair);
  • Understanding it is up to you to give a best shot to manage an unsatisfactory situation;
  • Communicating your point calmly, openly and confidently;
  • Understanding what situations you can and can’t  change.manage emotions

Typical assertive behaviours are:

  • Stating our thoughts clearly and confidently, without making demands or belittling ourselves;
  • Coping with justified criticism, and being able to give it when required in a considerate and balanced manner;
  •  Body language consisting of:
    • Steady eye contact;
    • Open body posture (without crossed arms), sitting upright and relaxed,
    • Head held straight;
    • Appropriate facial expression –smiling when relaxed or satisfied, frowning when displeased;
  • Making statements that are brief and to the point;
  • Asking open-ended questions to get others’ views: “What do you think?” “What can we do to resolve this?”
  • Being clear and direct by using ‘I’ statements, e.g. “I think”, “I want”, “I believe”.

Tips for Practicing Assertiveness

  1. Don’t weaken your communication by apologizing, making excuses or giving long explanations. When we use expressions like “I’m sorry to bring this up..”, “Maybe…”,  “Would you mind very much…” we are making our message feeble, thus undermining ourselves, making it easier for others to disregard or dismiss.
  2. Be brief. The fewer words you use, the bigger the impact. A rule of thumb is to listen more often than speak. Observe senior people around you – many powerful and effective people communicate with a few well, chosen words.
  3. Present yourself confidently. Look the person in the eye; hold your body upright and consciously relax your shoulders. Keep your face calm. Speak at a normal tone –without shouting or whispering.
  4. Plan and rehearse what you will say. In potentially difficult situations, successful people report going the extent of even writing down their ‘script’.
  5. Watch your timing! Choose the correct moment to bring up sensitive issues. Wrong times to go to the boss for example are: just as he is about to leave for a vacation, he is about to step out for lunch, he is in the middle of a high-pressure deadline, or has just been rapped on the knuckles by his boss!
  6. You must be in the driver’s seat. The initiative to bring up and discuss issues (whether making a suggestion, asking for clarification, or asking for resources) must be yours. You should decide when you want to bring up the issue rather than wait for the boss to ask or an explosion to happen.
  7. After adequate preparations, have the courage to say your piece!

In short, assertiveness is about being a more effective person.

Assertive behaviour doesn’t come naturally, and to practice it is not easy.  It is also important to accept that once in a while, when we goof up, that is, lose control and balance, it’s OK. After all, nobody is perfect, and to berate ourselves when a mistake is made is again bullying behaviour – here we are bullying ourselves! After learning our lesson, we have to forgive ourselves and move on.

Assertive behaviour is not very commonly seen. When we practice it, the other party could feel temporarily disconcerted. But remember, assertiveness is not about winning a popularity contest. If we are convinced our actions and words are fair (to ourselves and others), our self-respect and self-confidence will go up.

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