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How to Be More Assertive at Work

Posted by ICS Canada

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If you tend to be more introverted, like I do, you may have found yourself overlooked in the workplace. Though introversion and shyness aren’t the same thing, the behaviors that mark either trait tend to overlap, giving those around you the impression that you want to stay in the background. While that assumption is annoying in personal life, in your workplace it’s endlessly frustrating. You may be ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and looking to make a big impact in your industry but you never have an opportunity; someone else is always invited to join a planning meeting or asked to help with a new project. You’ve proven your skills again and again, but still find yourself left behind. What do you do? You work at being more assertive.

Unfortunately, the word “assertive” is often associated with negative behavior such as being aggressive, overconfident, or rude. It can often be seen as a “take no prisoners,” selfish attitude. Those of us who tend to prefer quiet and like to avoid confrontation (often to our detriment) worry about getting in the way of others’ progress and don’t consider the positive aspects of being assertive. The word “assertive” means having or showing a confident personality. What’s negative about being confident in your abilities? Absolutely nothing. So if you know you’re good at what you do or want to be involved at work, you should take a few steps to show you can take charge. Here’s how to be assertive without being arrogant or rude.

Recognize that you’re doing your job.
It’s not easy moving from “quiet coworker in the background—what’s her name again?” to “confident, knowledgeable, in-charge boss.” You don’t wake up one morning on the figurative correct side of the bed and turn your work personality around. Start small. Start at the beginning by realizing that, when you speak up constructively, you’re doing your job. You shouldn’t apologize for something you’re supposed to do. If you hurt someone’s feelings or step out of line, an apology is necessary. If you ask someone to meet a hard deadline, you’re ensuring that work gets done. Nothing to be sorry for there!

Be present, thoughtful, and mindful.
This doesn’t necessarily mean pushing your way into every meeting or discussion at work. But, when you’re attending a relevant meeting or discussing something with a coworker, keep your attention on topic. Another small step in working toward being more assertive is showing you are confident enough to really listen to what others have to say and respond accordingly. Part of being assertive is being respected; we can probably agree that those who barge in, shout, or adamantly insist they are the correct party without listening to the group is not respected.

Say what you mean. Be truthful.
We often couch negative thoughts or constructive feedback in a compliment sandwich. “You are so great at (blank), but this needs work; I know you can do an amazing job!” It’s nice, but is it effective? Are you being honest? It can be more than a little bit difficult to say what you mean, especially when you worry about offending someone. But, like our parents have told us millions of times, honesty is the best policy. Be kind, but forthright about issues that come up at work or areas where improvement could be made.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you can’t change everything overnight. Waking up one morning with the goal of being assertive immediately is likely to be a failed endeavour. Work up to it slowly. Realize that you are capable and you were hired for your position for a reason. Start sharing your ideas with others and you might find yourself finally being recognized and pulled into new projects. You’ve got this!

Categories: Career Planning

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