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Finding assertiveness

When Erica’s new boss enlisted her help with planning a staff summer party, she found herself saying ‘yes’, despite knowing she had more than enough on her plate as things stood and something was likely to give.  She wished she could have refused without causing offence and was now stuck with a task that made her resentful.

Instead of asserting her boundaries as she really wished she would have, Erica defaulted to a more passive acceptance. Someone else may have used an aggressive response and told the boss in no uncertain terms that she was not going to play the role of a party planner.

Passivity or aggression, which response is better? 

Probably neither. 

Assertiveness is more likely a better answer. This allows us to set boundaries and be clear without flying off the handle.  

Many say that assertion lives somewhere between aggression and passivity but we see that quite differently.  

Passivity and Aggression are most likely based on fight or flight modes of the emotional brain. Passivity and aggression might be more reactions than assertions.

Assertiveness and setting boundaries may call for a more conscious approach. Which would require us to tap into the executive function of the brain. This will allow us to be clear about what is OK and what is not, without the drama.

Here is how that might look:

The team meeting was set to be a difficult one.  There were a lot of differing opinions to be considered and a far from equitable distribution of tasks to be addressed.  Brian knew his greatest chance of success was if he used this opportunity to speak knowledgeably, honestly and use a direct approach to tackle the issues.  He sought to state the problem and request the solution without undermining his own position or attributing blame to others unfairly. 

Here are some ways to be assertive – try practicing them:

  • Don’t let your emotions lead; while it may be an emotional choice you are making, get your calm, rational self to do the talking.
  • Take a moment to collect yourself, to get clear about your boundaries or to clarify for yourself what is needed in this situation.
  • Express your own opinion, calmly.  Be respectful that not everyone will agree with it, but you are entitled to it.
  • Use ‘I’ statements.  You are not acting as a spokesperson, you are presenting your own viewpoint.
  • Maintain eye contact without staring someone down.
  • Get comfortable saying ‘no’.
  • Watch how your emotions want to drive kneejerk reactions and instead, keep engaging in mindful moments so you can access the more conscious and measured part of your brain. See our ABC model for one way to do this.

ABC model can be found here.

Rewire your Team

If your workplace culture tends towards overly nice behaviour where accountability gets lost due to passivity or if the culture tends towards aggression and blame, let us help you turn that around.

We can help you create a culture with a foundation of psychological safety, where people can assert their opinions without drama, feedback can be given, and accountability can be held – alongside positivity and productivity.

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