Ever been told you need to be more assertive? Mental health editor, Becky, has discovered just how common this feedback is
“You need to be more assertive” a nurse said to me on placement recently.
That’s the second time I’ve been told that during my training.
The first time was during a first year placement and then in my most recent placement in second year. It is valid feedback but it’s also loaded with my own question: why is it perceived that I’m not being assertive?
This week’s blog is a reflective piece that ties in with my last blog on whistleblowing. This feedback on being more assertive made me think, I can’t be the only one who feels like that.
So I spoke with three other colleagues and they have been told the same, which made me first of all realise that I shouldn’t take this feedback too personally, but it also made me wonder why it’s being said.
I had a good think about it. What stops me being assertive?
“The student role is unclear, particularly in the first year”
The student nurse role is complex. It’s not just about going in and going to work. You have competences to fill, a mentor and established teams to form relationships with and potential future employers, which can be nerve-wracking. To top it off, we’re also loaded with messages from university about speaking up and whistleblowing.
The student role is unclear, particularly in the first year, when it’s all so unfamiliar.
There is no clear job identity as a student. There is a lack of confidence and knowledge. What tasks are we competent and able to do, and are we allowed to do them? This uncertainty can lead to a perceived lack of assertiveness, confidence and ability to speak up being compromised.
My university’s placements are nine weeks long. I spend the first 4-5 weeks finding my feet before I gain the confidence and knowledge to be assertive. But I notice as I go through placements now, I’m getting more familiar with the trust I’m working within, the teams within it and how they work together.
When I applied to study mental health nursing, I had no prior healthcare assistant experience, only that of a medical secretary. I thought this wouls put me at a disadvantage so in first year, I lacked confidence because I was unfamiliar with psychiatric inpatient wards. Notably I was more comfortable in a community team because I had worked in one before.
This year, I’ve noticed a change in myself. My confidence is improving, my knowledge is increasing and conversely I feel I’m starting to become more assertive. Being a medical secretary means I can be proud of my report writing and typing skills and use them to my advantage.
“Any job you have ever been in, have you ever been assertive within the first few weeks?”
I have worked as a science and supply teacher and group fitness Instructor. I know I am and can be assertive. I now need to believe it.
Any job you have ever been in, have you ever been assertive within the first few weeks?
You have to find your feet, familiarity and confidence. When being assertive doesn’t come naturally I think about the ‘personas’ I have for teaching, this is just another persona. Putting on a persona is like putting on a mask. Pretend confidence. Pretend you know what you’re doing and then if you pretend long enough, it will become you. Think about your service users and how you are advocating for them.
I think in my first year I took it quite personally. This year, I reflected on the experience - I had worked with this person once before, I know they don’t know the real me.
With any feedback, how personally do you take it? Who is saying it to you? Do they offer constructive feedback to help you improve?
I think it is easier to be assertive when you have done a role for longer than the nine weeks or so we get. We are also not fully responsible and accountable at this stage. I think there is something very powerful about being accountable and responsible for your actions that makes a person assertive. Some people it comes naturally to, others have to work at it.
I want students to know you are not the only one who gets told this, don’t take it personally and think what you can do to change that perception. Think about your strengths, play on those and work on these perceived weaknesses.
Rebecca Kidman is Student Nursing Times’ mental health branch student editor