The whys and ways of assertiveness at work

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When asked if she could take on just this one extra load of work, Jo wanted to say no because she was already at the tipping point of her capacity. Instead she said: sure, no problem.

When Max attended the monthly board meeting, he had concerns about the direction a project in the planning stages was headed. But he didn’t speak up because he didn’t want to offend anyone or rock the boat.

Annick knew she was perfect for a job recently posted internally at her organization. The role matched her career aspirations and many of the skills she’s developed over the years. But she had never previously voiced this interest or promoted her abilities and accomplishments. She assumed her work should speak for itself. The role went to another colleague who was well known and more vocal about her aspirations and capabilities.

Jo, Max, and Annick each felt frustrated and upset with their situations - and with themselves for not speaking up. Each could shore up their assertiveness skills.

Sound familiar? Do you occasionally (or often) feel held back in your career (and life) because you haven't appropriately asserted yourself? Do you feel uncomfortable and/or hesitate to speak up, especially on issues that you perceive might involve differences of opinion and maybe conflict? Do you find yourself frequently saying yes when you'd rather say no?

If you answered ‘yes’, or even ‘sometimes’ to any of these questions you’re in good company. Many people feel there are moments and situations where they could do better. Assertiveness is not an all or none skill. Chances are you are comfortable asserting in some situations but hesitant in others. We each have our own personal triggers or situations that might be tougher to take a stand.

No doubt, there are times when it just seems easier to stay quiet and not speak up. Less effort and courage required. But the easier route can have costs – with repercussions related to: building trust; career advancement; self esteem; and even burn-out and happiness.

Silence is not always golden

As a coach trained in both emotional intelligence and the burgeoning area of Conversational Intelligence®, I often tell my clients that the adage ‘silence is golden’ isn’t always true. In fact, sometimes silence can be the limiting factor that holds you back. Silence can also lead to more misunderstandings, communications blind spots, and relationship breakdowns.

When we forfeit our voice because of self doubt or fear, we compromise our own authenticity - and can short-change the potential for success and fulfillment.

Emotional Intelligence and Conversational Intelligence®

Emotional Intelligence teaches us that healthy assertiveness skills are fundamental to our ability to self actualize and garner success – and even happiness.

Learning to be more assertive involves a range of skills related to self awareness, good judgment, courage, and communications efficacy (yes – the words and tone you use matter).

In Conversational Intelligence®, we learn many of the skills that open us up to being more transparent and to foster more understanding with ourselves and others. Ultimately, this helps prime for more trust, more clarity, and potential for better results.

Assertiveness Defined (EQ-i 2.0): The definition describes assertiveness as the ability to express feelings, beliefs and thoughts and defend one’s rights in a non-destructive manner. There are three elements to this definition: 1) the ability to accept and express feelings; 2) the ability to express beliefs and thoughts openly even when it is emotionally difficult to do so; 3) the ability to stand up for personal rights without being aggressive or abusive.
*disclosure: I am certified in the EQi.

Born or bred?

Some people are naturally more assertive, but the good news is that we all have an innate ability to learn new skills to empower us to navigate conversations more honestly and effectively.

There’s more good news here. If you are concerned that becoming more assertive will mean you have to lose yourself and be someone else – i.e. a more aggressive version, know that assertiveness is the exact opposite.

Developing a healthy assertiveness ability means you minimize the risk of being overly aggressive. Instead, you get to be more of you. More authentically expressed. More genuine. And with a greater chance of getting better results. All this – while maintaining healthy relationship dynamics.

To better understand how your own level of assertiveness might be factoring into your personal experience, here are some questions to reflect on:

  • Can you identify specific instances in your work or life where you felt held back because you haven’t asserted yourself? What was the cost of not asserting yourself in those situations?
  • When you have an opinion that differs from others, do you tend to shy away from voicing these opinions or do you take a stand and articulate what is important?
  • How do you feel about speaking up on issues that might involve some conflict? Does that give you anxiety? Do you worry that others may think less of you? Do you avoid them at all costs?
  • When you need or want something that is important to you, do you proactively and directly make requests for it?
  • Do you find yourself frequently saying yes — when you’d rather say no?

There’s lots more to dig into on this topic! I’ll be drawing from both EQ (emotional intelligence) and Conversational Intelligence® - and share insights, tips, and strategies to help you shore up your confidence, courage, and communications skills. Get ready for a more assertive and authentic you.

Join us on May 31st and learn more about the ‘Whys and Ways’ of Assertiveness’ at Work.

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, ACPC, ABC (@Chadnick) is an ICF certified executive, career, and leadership coach; and a communications pro (20+ years of experience). Principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto, Eileen is the author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of ‘Crazy Busy’, and a contributor to the Globe and Mail Careers. Eileen brings insights from communications, emotional intelligence; and the burgeoning field of Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ®). See more at BigCheeseCoaching.com, follow her on Twitter @Chadnick and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Bigcheesecoaching.

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