Your work isn’t always going to run smoothly, and passive-aggressiveness won’t change that. Instead of simmering in silence or working behind the scenes to get even, asserting yourself can actually make things better. The reason many of us don’t respond to obstacles in the workplace this way, though, is because we often see assertion as an individual thing–something we do for our own benefit, like asking for a raise or promotion, or defending our ideas in a meeting.
But you can use the same tactics on behalf of your team to resolve challenges facing all of you, boost morale, and help get everyone remotivated. It’s no wonder assertiveness is considered a key to good leadership–even if we’re more prone to seeing it as a personality trait than we are to recognize how it actually plays out in groups. These are a few ways some simple assertiveness can help benefit those you work with, not just you.
Assertiveness can help when you’re looking to get buy-in from your team on a plan, campaign, or killer idea. The best approach, in my experience, probably won’t surprise you: Hold a quick meeting about that particular plan, campaign, or idea as a place to explain it, debate it, and (hopefully) gain everyone’s acceptance.
You can do this by asking for suggestions and input and providing space for others to speak up and share ideas, rather than waiting for them to say something. Then, you acknowledge those ideas and push them forward as imperative to accomplishing what you’re so excited to get started on.
We often find leaders making a decision then assertively announcing it to their teams. But commands issued this way are more likely to be seen (often correctly) as reflecting the leader’s own goals and leaving little consideration for others’. The alternative approach is a win-win because it uses assertiveness not only to make your case but to embrace other perspectives and make your team feel genuinely involved.
I recently did this myself. Our company has long been in the invoicing space, but I’ve long wanted us to branch out into payments. So at a meeting last year, I provided data, metrics, and customer insights to show how what I wanted was right–and potentially good for all of us. Then I became assertive, pushing everyone forward once we agreed on the goal. A year later, we now have a payments product. Had I not been assertive through the process, it wouldn’t have happened.
Another way to use assertiveness effectively is to address any team members who aren’t giving 100%. They may be disrespectful, late, or just all-around negative. Some leaders might resort to aggressiveness because this type of bad behavior frustrates them, but that rarely changes bad behaviors or motivates the rest of the team to follow their lead. Instead, it’s leading by fear.
As a manager, the better approach is to take a problematic employee aside and explain how their behavior is affecting the entire team and organization. Rather than talking them down into submission–asserting your own authority–this is an opportunity to also give them a chance to explain themselves and their behavior, as it impacts the group.
Maybe they’re burnt out or having problems at home or this is a sign of a bigger organizational issue that you need to address. Having a one-on-one conversation may do more than just quickly stop bad behavior; it can also help you see other issues that you might not have known were impacting your talent.
The fact is that conflicts occur within every organization. Some are actually healthy–occasional, respectful differences in opinion can lead to an exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, these are few and far between.
Most workplace conflicts are counterproductive and can lead to a toxic work environment. This is another opportune time to put assertiveness to work. No matter the type of dispute or how you mediate it, stay calm and composed, never forgetting the broader team goals you’re trying to serve. That means taking the time to hear both sides of the story and getting the facts straight. Then you can make a decision that’s in the best interests of all involved–even if they don’t initially see it that way.
For example, you may ultimately decide that two of your sales reps can no longer sit next to each other. Even though a problem like this may seem juvenile, it still has to be addressed in a way that’s non-threatening and non-shaming. By deescalating the immediate source of their conflict, you can give them the space they need to refocus on their work rather than on each other–and, ultimately, to get to the heart of the team dynamics that caused them to butt heads in the first place.
While these situations illustrate when it makes sense to be assertive, the real challenge is how to put that assertiveness into action in order to achieve these collective benefits consistently. Wanting to do it and actually carrying it off are two different things. Here are some good rules of thumb:
1. Keep your emotions under control. If you find this difficult, you may want to consider studying up on emotional intelligence, which offers a framework for deploying the right “people skills” in the right contexts by understanding how others think and feel. If you’re a hothead, that can help you avoid yelling and begin practicing a calmer approach to your leadership style that still shows you’re in control.
2. Pick the right battles. Not everything has to be addressed by you personally; some things can be resolved among team members or individuals. Only focus on those larger issues that impact the team or productivity.
3. Use positive body language, like eye contact and postures that convey confidence and self-possession. Assertiveness isn’t always about words. You can use body language to make your point more subtly but just as effectively.
4. Address issues clearly and directly. Articulate what you want from others and why you want that for everyone’s sake, rather than assuming that they know. This directness can help get what you want more often and with a lot less effort.
5. Learn how to say no. Assertiveness isn’t always about getting someone else to do something for you. It’s also about letting others know you won’t be pushed into doing something you really don’t want to do. Understand that it’s okay to decline to do something asked of you if it compromises your values, responsibilities, work-life balance, or the team’s interests–then explain how.
It takes practice to be assertive in ways that benefit others, not just yourself. We’re generally better at sticking up for ourselves than we are at championing others. But the latter is a leadership challenge if ever there was one, and it’s one that every good manager needs to confront.
Find that balance between coming off aggressively and not actively pursuing the things your team needs in order to thrive. When you do, others will respond positively, creating more effective working relationships, building deeper respect for your leadership, and accomplishing more of your goals.