Being assertive isn’t being selfish - it can promote fairness and efficiency at work.
Assertiveness is a mode of communication. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines it as “a form of behaviour characterised by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point”.
Many of us don’t like having to tell people that they can’t do something, or feel obligated when a colleague asks for a favour or pressurised when someone senior needs something done.
In some workplaces, saying “no” is frowned upon. Assertiveness skills are essential, as they will enable you to look after yourself and work more effectively. Sometimes, it involves finding ways of saying no without having to use the “n” word.
There is a lot of anxiety around the consequences of saying no.
Tips on being assertive
● If you feel you will be at an unfair disadvantage, stand back and assess the situation
● Check your understanding: “when you ask me to do… do you mean…?”
● Use the I-statement, then consider a way forward (fogging, asking for information, suggesting a solution)
● Be reasonable, but if necessary use the “broken record” technique
● Work with integrity; looking after yourself without being selfish will lead to positive outcomes all round
Unassertive individuals don’t say anything, agree to things they’d rather not and get landed with work that isn’t theirs.
Assertiveness can help people to be more efficient in their own work, and act as role models, showing a way of working that supports others to do the same and promote a fairer distribution of work.
There are times when it’s “all hands on deck” but, at other times, being assertive can make a real difference to the working environment.
Assertive communication consists of sharing wants and needs honestly in a safe manner and focuses on the issue, not the person. Aggressive and/or passive communication, on the other hand, may mark a relationship’s end and reduce self-respect.
Being assertive is easier said than done. The following techniques may help:
- Broken record: This consists of repeating your requests or your refusals every time you are met with resistance. The key to this approach is repetition where your partner will not take no for an answer. A disadvantage is that when resistance continues, your requests may lose power every time you repeat them. In these cases, it is necessary to have some sanctions on hand.
- Fogging: This consists of finding some limited truth to agree with in what an antagonist is saying. One can agree in part or in principle.
- Negative enquiry: This consists of requesting further more specific criticism.
- Negative assertion: This involves agreeing with criticism without letting up demand.
- I-statements: These can be used to voice personal feelings and wishes without expressing a judgement about the other person or blaming them.
Sue Hodgetts is chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Management and has extensive experience in education and training within and outside the NHS.