Many people believe that aggressiveness is the key to success at the workplace. They think that they can get to the top by imposing their views on others and forcing them to do what they want. This belief has been reinforced by terms such as ‘aggressive market strategy’ and ‘aggressive game’. The truth is that this principle does not work in team environments where interpersonal relationships are very important for achieving goals. What one needs in such an atmosphere (which is when you are working for an organization) is assertiveness.
Aggression versus Assertiveness
An aggressive person often tramples upon other people’s rights, views and their self-esteem itself. Needless to say, this harms the person’s relationship with others in the long run. Then there are the passive types, people who never take initiative for anything and do only what they are asked to do. These are the losers. There is also a more complicated sort, the passive-aggressive. These are the manipulators and game-players. Once exposed, they are perhaps even more detested than the aggressive types.
All the behaviours we described earlier are clearly unhealthy. Now let us move on to define a set of healthy behaviours collectively described as ‘assertive behaviour’. To put it in a nutshell, assertive behaviour stems from respect for self and respect for others. High self-esteem and respect for other people’s views and rights form its foundation.
The Winner in You
It is again a misconception that self-esteem is a static entity- that people are either born with it or never have it. Both self-esteem and assertive behaviour can be developed with conscious effort. If you take a survey around you, you will see that all the people who have had long term success in any walk of life- be it work, family life, team sports or just about anything- are those who develop an assertive set of behaviour.
A lot of research has been gone into the psychology of assertive behaviour. There are entire books, courses and training programs devoted to cultivate assertive behaviour. Let us look at a few quick pointers.
Do you have a positive mindset? This is a prerequisite for assertive behaviour. A positive person believes that he/she is a valuable person with the right to dignity, the right to choose, the right to make mistakes, the right to ask for what he/she wants and the right to say ‘no’. You are as good as anyone else. Affirm these thoughts in your mind.
Do you have a tendency to ruminate over your past failures and mistakes? Learn from them and then move on. Do not dwell on them. Do not let them lead into believing that you are no good.
This does not mean that you do not evaluate yourself realistically. Take time periodically to introspect, identify your strengths and weaknesses based on past experience and also identify your goals. Write them down. If there are areas that you feel the need to improve on, address them directly. Take action to work on them.
Be honest and admit your fears and phobias. Face them and challenge them. They will vanish once you bring them out in the open and confront them.
Mind the way you speak with others. When you express your ideas and opinions, show responsibility for them by using expressions such as ‘I think…’, ‘I believe…’, ‘I liked…’, ‘I disagree…’ etc.
Be direct and clear in your communications. Avoid vagueness and sarcasm. People often fear a sarcastic person, but co-operation out of fear also builds hidden resentment.
Be confident of what you say. Steer clear of being self-effacing and apologetic of what you say- they make you appear weak.
Be an active listener. Active listening means that you use your face, expressions like ‘I see…’, ‘hmm’ etc to show that you are listening. Ask questions whenever appropriate, either when you don’t comprehend something fully, or to double check your understanding. This is the single-most amazing tool that develops rapport in team environments.
Take interest in the people around you. However you need to strike the right balance between being too detached/ remote and being too involved/ inquisitive.
Give and ask for constructive feedback. This is applicable at the workplace as well as your personal life. All of us have aspects in our behaviour/ performance that we are unaware of. You won’t know unless someone tells you.
If you feel that someone is criticizing/ targeting you unfairly, choose to behave in a dignified manner. It is often best to keep quiet especially in group situations as the silence itself will speak on your behalf. However it does not work in this way in all situations. Others might feel that you are silent because you have deserved the criticism. However keep your cool and dignity in any reply you might choose to make.
When you are at the receiving end of someone’s anger, try to look at it from an objective point of view. This is easier said than done, but remember that it is not about you as a person, but something that you have said or done. The annoyance also has to do with the other person’s personality- his/her values and upbringing. Do not add fuel to the fire by getting angry yourself and getting into a heated argument. When you feel that the other person has some genuine reason to be upset, wait silently for the anger to subside and listen to what the other person says. Then ask questions to check if you have understood them correctly. If the situation appears totally irrational or if everything else fails, just walk away from the spot.