Confidence, respect and self esteem: Why assertiveness is key23 Feb 2018
Assertive (adjective): Disposed to or characterised by bold or confident statements and behaviour.
For a long time, I was very hesitant to adopt 'assertive' as one of my descriptors in the workplace. I used to associate assertion with people who were pushy, overpowering even. That was until I realised that assertiveness doesn't have to equate to aggressiveness. In fact, they are two very different things.
To be aggressive is to be forceful in your opinions, hostile in your communication.To be assertive is to be direct and honest about what you think and what you need.
The difference is considerable. The attributes associated with assertiveness are actually the core elements of good leadership: honesty, authentic communication and transparency.
How can assertiveness help you?
I'm not the only one who thinks so either. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, international leadership consultant and author Scott Edinger argues that assertiveness is the single most important skill for leaders to build up.
Why? Because being assertive complements critical leadership skills – ultimately improving us in a variety of ways. Let's explore a few from Edinger.
To be assertive is to be direct and honest about what you think and what you need.
Edinger conducted a study to determine the most powerful traits of innovative leaders. The research concluded that one of these attributes was an ability to push back against the hierarchy – or, in other words, assertiveness. Their innovative ideas were allowed to thrive by their ability to be frank about why change was needed, their commitment to fighting for the resources they needed to make it happen and their courage to disagree with the accepted norms.
2. Teamwork and collaboration
Assertiveness and collaboration? While the two sound like polar opposites, they actually complement each other nicely, according to Edinger. The ability to be honest and upfront is a trait that your peers will value – ultimately creating trust between you and your team.
If you're comfortable with being assertive it makes it much easier to question things that go against your moral code. Assertive leaders are prepared to question board decisions that go against corporate values or just flat out reject things that don't align with overall goals.
"Assertiveness doesn't cause honesty or vice-versa," explains Edinger. "But when the two operate together they give people the courage not only to know what is right but to stand up for it as well."
How can you learn to better use assertion as a leader?
Becoming more assertive in your day-to-day life is easier than you might think. However, it will take some getting used to. My first tip is to make sure you truly understand the difference between assertion and aggression. It's possible to be a likeable and friendly person that communications directly with no fluff.
My second tip? Examine your own behaviour. Ask yourself what scenarios tend to make you sheepish and how you could benefit from being assertive in those situations.
Lastly, test the waters with your assertiveness. Try to slip in a couple assertive statements in your next company meeting, watch for the results and continue on when comfortable.
The art of assertion is easy to master and can be a useful tool for any leader. To learn more skills like these, check out ICML's range of leadership training courses!