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3rd Jul, 2024

Christy Houghton
Christy Houghton
Job Title
Social Media Content Executive

Assertiveness is about finding compromises that work for everyone and communicating clearly, honestly and respectfully to those around you in the workplace.

Understanding assertiveness in leadership

When you think of the word assertive, does the image of a loud person who always gets their way with little regard for others come to mind? That is not assertion, that is aggression. The two are often confused but they are two separate mindsets, behaviours and communication styles.

Assertiveness is a tricky balance of behaviours that is neither too timid nor too forceful. Those who are passive leaders will put others first, above themselves, for fear of conflict, a desire to be liked, or because they lack the confidence to stand firm in their own beliefs.

Think of assertion as a happy medium between passivity (putting others first) and aggression (putting yourself first).

Assertiveness is about clearly communicating (asserting) your needs and boundaries and considering those of others, to come to a healthy compromise. With this type of leadership style, you build respect, clarity, and inclusivity among your team and organisation.

Debunking assertiveness myths

Often, what masquerades as assertiveness is nothing but aggression in disguise, a source of common misconception.

Another myth you may have heard about assertiveness, is that you either are or you aren’t – and that once you’ve learnt the skill, you will always be assertive. Just like other skills, it takes time and practise to develop the right mindset.

There are some instances where passivity or aggression are necessary for self-preservation, instead of assertiveness. Part of the skill of assertiveness in leadership is the art of balance – knowing when to push forward and when to yield, when to stand firm and when to compromise. Silence can sometimes be the most assertive response.

Assertiveness doesn’t guarantee you will get your own way. It’s not a tool for manipulation but a way to open a constructive discussion that can lead to compromise.

People tend to believe that men are more likely to be assertive than women, but women frequently lead in this arena, wielding empathy, collaboration, and intuition as their strengths.

Barriers to assertiveness

Many people struggle with assertiveness due to various barriers, such as uncertainty about their desires or emotions, self-esteem issues, and the fear of criticism or retaliation.

As a leader, this is detrimental to team dynamics and will instead be replaced with passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive behaviours. Therefore, overcoming these barriers is crucial for effective communication.

Everyone is assertive to an extent, but it sometimes needs to be awakened by external forces, such as training, to ensure the person can practise the skill and develop the mindset required to regularly harness it.

Becoming assertive

Assertiveness is not a skill you develop in isolation. Developing this mindset and behaviour type requires you to be confident, self-assured, emotionally intelligent and to understand your own boundaries and self-worth. Everyone deserves to have their boundaries respected but they also must respect others’ boundaries in return.

If your assertions are self-focused, they might be communicated aggressively. If they are too focused on accommodating another person, the leader is communicating passively. Passive-aggression leaves conflict unresolved in favour of the perception that there is none.

It’s important to develop good communication and conflict resolution skills. Here are some best-practice tips:

“I” statements

Using “I” statements allows you to express your feelings honestly and opens the door to constructive dialogue. For example, “I would like it if you could join meetings earlier in future, because otherwise I have to repeat myself,” works better than saying “You need to be on time to meetings,” because you are sharing your perspective and how their actions impact you, expressing how you feel and what you want from the other person.

Clear communication

Being clear and concise, polite but firm, ensures there are no misunderstandings and that you’re considering the other person and your own circumstances equally. You will also portray confidence and decisiveness which helps you earn respect.

When someone makes a request and you aren’t sure if it’s something you can agree to yet, say that. Acknowledge the other person’s perspective, and don’t feel pressured to agree immediately. Ask for time to consider your response – otherwise, it’s fine to say no, if necessary.

Believe in yourself

Don’t apologise or over explain, if you believe in what you’re saying. Maintain eye contact, and a confident posture to reenforce your points. If you believe in what you’re saying, others are more likely to trust you and your assertions. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and respected.

Repeat yourself

Repeating your assertions is also known as the ‘broken record technique’. Assertions often need to be repeated and reinforced to be heard. If others ignore, avoid or argue against your assertions, maintaining your stance shows how important it is to you and that you are unwavering. Repeating yourself in a different way is a good way to stand your ground on something you strongly believe in.

Setting a positive example

Assertive leaders guide the way through clear and effective communication that cuts through the noise of indecision, ensuring that their vision and directives are unequivocally understood. This allows everyone to understand where they stand.

In an organisation, assertiveness weaves a pattern of behaviour that others emulate, and it can influence the company culture and improves employee relations. Their assertive nature empowers their team to be assertive.

Such leaders invite each member to play their part, encouraging the shy to speak up, and the reticent to contribute, building inclusion and belonging through a diverse range of voices heard and ideas shared – popular or not. This removes the issues associated with ‘groupthink’.

It creates a safe space, where leaders are the guardians of their team's wellbeing, where respect is earned through the courage to challenge hierarchies in defence of one's team. This will significantly increase employee satisfaction and retention.

With tools such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn, potential candidates find it easier to assess what type of employers are in your organisation and can spread the word more easily. Therefore, it will also increase attraction to your roles if your management style is assertive and positive.

A critical skill

Assertiveness is a critical skill for personal development, requiring a blend of critical thinking, emotional intelligence, empathy, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Asking for what you want and saying no when you feel it’s necessary is not selfish – if you’re considering others as well. Being assertive is to place one's needs on an equal footing with others’, communicating them clearly and listening just as much as speaking.

This communication style is vital as it can lead to healthier relationships and more effective leadership. It’s not necessary to be constantly asserting yourself – it’s more of a survival tactic – but knowing when and how to express your needs and boundaries respectfully is a crucial behavioural style and mindset to learn.

If you’re looking for a new opportunity or member of your team, contact your nearest Reed office today.