Assertive communication important, especially when you work in a consultancy. Assertiveness isn’t about being rude or aggressive. It’s about clarity and being your own advocate.
Be non-assertive too often, and you end up feeling unable to say no. You find it hard to express your thoughts or opinions, and you may even self-censor to avoid potential conflict.
Effective collaboration relies on assertiveness
As the saying goes, there may not be an “I” in team, but there is a “me”.
Productive relationships, which is what collaboration is all about, depend on the parties involved:
Knowing what they want: what are their goals? What actions must they complete to get there? How much time do they need to dedicate to working on these actions?
Knowing their own rights: everyone has basic rights at work – such as the right to have clear expectations to follow, to get regular feedback, and to have their ideas heard. (A comprehensive list can be found in Assertiveness at Work, by Kate and Ken Back.)
Expressing and advocating for their own rights: you can’t work as an effective team until you have a basic respect for each other. At first, it may feel like the more non-assertive you are (the more you bend over backwards to help others, often sacrificing working on your own goals), the more people will like you, and the easier it will be to work with them. But collaboration (whether it be with a colleague, client or partner company) is about compromise. Be clear about what you need, not just what you can do for the other parties involved.
Willingness to compromise: assertiveness is not aggression. Assertiveness is confidently stating your opinion, thoughts or decisions. When you become aggressive, it’s often as sign that there has been a breakdown of communication, you’ve grown frustrated and you’re not sure why, but you feel you have to defend yourself, your time or your ideas. Being assertive allows you to reach a compromise that satisfies all parties (while aggression is about you “winning”, and non-assertiveness is about you capitulating – do that too often and you’ll start to see yourself as weak).
The less assertive you are when communicating, the more your time will fill up with tasks that aren’t related to what you actually need to achieve.
But your own goals, and those of your clients, don’t vanish. They dwell forever on the back-burner as aspirations that are never quite realised, and actions that get completed, but at the last minute because you never seem to have the time, or you forget about them completely.
Eventually you’ll become resentful that your time and authority isn’t being respected by others – but how can they respect these things when you don’t respect them yourself?
To communicate assertively, you need to:
1. Set boundaries.
2. Be the boss of your own time – when someone asks “do you have time to…” don’t immediately say yes because you know that’s what they want. Look at your own actions and consider the question. Train people to respect your time, don’t lead them to believe that you will always drop everything for anything they want to delegate to you.
3. Set goals – for yourself and with clients.
4. Know your rights and communicate openly and with confidence.
5.Compromise. Effective communication isn’t a battle where someone will always emerge the victor while the other goes off to lick their wounds. It’s about mutual respect and understanding.