Author: Cathy Wellings
How often have you heard the phrase, “It is a jungle out there!” These days, lifestyle coaches and corporate trainers abound who train professionals in becoming more assertive. “Stop being a pushover” they say. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
So how important is it to learn to be assertive at work? Is this any different from being assertive outside of work, in your personal life, when for example you have trouble saying “no” to family or friends, partners or salesmen? What exactly does it mean to be assertive anyway? And does it mean the same irrespective of gender? And, do class or culture count?
These are important questions to consider for anyone who feels somewhat shy or intimidated, and feels that they are being held back by their inability to speak up.
To start with, what exactly does it mean to be assertive?
It is being able to stand up for yourself and your ideas, for what you believe to be right and for what you know to be fair. It is not about simply getting your own way. It does not mean disrespecting others, but respecting yourself. It means having the self-confidence to speak out when you have a point to make. It also means the ability to say “no” or “I don’t think so”, when the situation demands this.
Assertiveness is not simply a behavioral change, something outward and superficial. It has to start from your inner conviction, from having self-esteem. People who lack confidence or who let others walk over them worry about the effect of their own words and actions on others. They feel a lack in themselves, be it confidence or self-worth even. But as Eleanor Roosevelt so brilliantly put it, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Assertiveness should not be confused with aggression, as it is a positive trait. It comes with the right tone of voice, the right body language, and the right attitude.
However, there are some important considerations, like gender and cultural context for anyone looking to make these changes in their personality and behavior. Cultural differences particularly should not be overlooked in what is fast becoming a global society. For instance, there is more vertical hierarchy in Asian business environments than in the western. What may seem friendly and personal may come across as aggressive and “in your face.” The “cards on the table” attitude of one culture can puzzle or even offend another. Suit your tone of voice and non-verbal communication so you do not alienate when you’re meaning to connect. There is a fine line dividing assertive and aggressive behavior. It is easier to get your voice heard if you can build better professional and personal relationships.
Ultimately, it is about you as a person, whether in a personal or a professional capacity. If you can develop self-confidence, self-belief, self-esteem, and self-worth, you will find it easier to look someone in the eye and calmly but forcefully get your point across. The good news is, these personality traits can be learned.