Assertiveness is one of the strongest predictors of success in a business environment. It requires you to be able to communicate your opinions clearly and confidently enough to be heard without backing down too easily or becoming aggressive.
In a recent survey, 55% of respondents recognised that they had missed out on opportunities at work due to not being assertive. This shows how essential this skill is to develop your career effectively.
Why is assertiveness so crucial at work?
The things that we say and how we say them have a huge impact on how others perceive us.
Positive working relationships play a large role in the success of many, allowing them to collaborate more effectively and access support.
Individuals who master assertiveness can communicate with others confidently, ensuring that their points are understood and heard clearly without making a negative impression on others.
Though context is a large factor which can impact the interpretation of situations, it is thought that many of us subconsciously label the behaviours of others and those of ourselves along a spectrum of assertiveness.
Researchers have highlighted a number of behaviours which are associated with high assertiveness and additional behaviours which are associated with low assertiveness.
Those who are not assertive enough are likely to withdraw, avoid and respond passively whilst those who are overly assertive are more likely to be aggressive, competitive and coercive.
Mastering both how and when to be assertive has several benefits. It can reduce conflict, facilitate consistency, reduce stress, limit burnout and increase confidence.
Assertiveness and confidence
Whilst there is a strong relationship between assertiveness and confidence, it is important to recognise these as two distinct constructs. Assertiveness focuses on one’s interpersonal behaviour whilst confidence describes one’s belief in their own ability or knowledge.
We may see the effects of someone who is overconfident or underconfident affecting how they choose to interact and communicate with others. For example, someone who is overconfident may be more likely to demonstrate the aggressive behaviour associated with being overly assertive.
Finding your voice in the workplace
So, how do you respond when someone challenges you in the workplace?
It’s a difficult balance; demonstrate too little assertiveness and you will rarely get your own way but demonstrate too much assertiveness and you risk alienating your audience.
It can be just as frustrating to feel you are being talked over and unable to get your point across as it can be to feel strongly about a topic and have your behaviour labelled as aggressive or overly demanding.
The role of Self-awareness
A key part of striking the right balance with assertiveness is self-awareness. Research has shown that there is often a difference between how individuals perceive their own behaviour compared to how this same behaviour was perceived by others.
Across a series of studies, it was found that when asked to categorise their behaviour as under assertive, appropriately assertive or overly assertive, negotiators’ views only matched the views of others about half of the time.
Furthermore, another study has shown that when someone is overly assertive, others will be less likely to give signals to indicate that a person is being overly assertive as they believe this will be received badly.
They may avoid communicating their feelings to the person as they anticipate that the person is unlikely to change. As a result, people are likely to view themselves as appropriately assertive even when others widely agree that they are overly assertive.
Women are more likely to be viewed as overly assertive than men, even when exhibiting the same assertive behaviours.
When assessed in situations such as job interviews and salary negotiations, assertive women were labelled as less likeable and overly demanding as well as their counterparts being more likely to avoid future interactions with them, challenge their viewpoints and question their overall competency.
Alongside these social challenges, women exhibiting assertive behaviour were less likely to get what they were asking for when compared to assertive men.
Having an understanding of these biases is important when assessing situations to choose whether you will be more or less assertive.
Whilst 97% of men believe that they are assertive at work, only 80% of women do. It is a common concern, particularly amongst women and younger workers, that being assertive may lead others to believe that they are overly bossy or forceful.
It’s important to recognise that to avoid being associated with characteristics that are linked to being overly assertive it’s important to master assertiveness.
Mastering assertiveness means knowing how to adapt how assertive you are being based on the context. As well as balancing your needs with the needs of others, rather than focusing entirely on your own needs.
How to be more assertive
How to ask for what you want, the right way
The first step in mastering assertiveness is to focus on empowering oneself to feel able to speak up in important discussions. To learn more about how to be more assertive and the key components of assertive behaviour come along to our next espresso session.
Facilitated by Kris Bachoo, ‘Become More Assertive - Finding Your Voice’ was a free 20 minute session which will dive into what assertiveness is and isn’t, research around why we are sometimes not as assertive as we would like to be and the psychological theory that will help you to be more assertive. The takeaways can be found here.