Assertiveness in the Workplace


For businesses to thrive there needs to be good relationships between management and staff.  With most business these days cut to a bare minimum in terms of staff numbers, people are stretched to work harder and longer which can lead to stress and demotivation.  It is quite often hard to say “No” to more work, even though you may be completely overwhelmed.  To be effective as a supervisor or manager of a team of employees, situations will call for assertion of authority.   At the same time an employee who is underperforming because of workload also needs to speak up about their situation.

Good leadership skills are required to inspire your team to work to their maximum performance even when they lack motivation in addition to good listening skills and reality checks with assertiveness being key.   Some people mistake assertiveness for aggression but there is a big difference which really comes down to the way we communicate.

An assertive manager will state clearly what the job expectations are with deadlines (if appropriate).  They might also give reasons why the job needs to be done and the importance of it, to enable the employee to feel valued and part of a bigger picture.   An assertive employee will be able to give a truthful and reasonable response in terms of their own workload, time scales and perhaps pressures from other bosses or staff demanding their time.  Being honest about this gives the manager an opportunity to reassess the situation for the best outcome.

An aggressive manager will throw orders around, send long emailed ambiguous instructions and may micro-manage on a regular basis asking “have you done this yet”   “I need this by 5pm”, all without warning.  Deadlines might be unclear but there will be no mistaking the strong message that the work needs to be done, without question.   It might be harder for an employee to be assertive in this case because of fear and anxiety about upsetting the manager, getting a poor review or being ridiculed and devalued.  An aggressive manager de-stablises any sense of trust and security.  The employee in this case might be passive.  They will not speak up but instead will get on with the work, feeling resentful, powerless and helpless.   Anger and frustration may kick in which begins the process of passive-aggression. I’ll smile at you and say “yes” but “i’m not working hard anymore and I no longer care about you or this job”.   This is not a good situation for either party.

Both managers and employers have their own agendas at work.  Nobody is a blank slate or a robot.  However at work there is a joint agenda of being productive, doing a good job and meeting deadlines with an underlying personal agenda of personal satisfaction and achievement, opportunities for promotion or enhancement and being personally valued.

Being assertive is speaking out for yourself, your own needs, capacity to help and also consequences.   In this way the picture is clear for all to see and better decisions can be made.

Emotional intelligence is important for workplace managers, to enable them to read the signs in themselves and others.

For more information on obstacles to assertiveness look at the fear, anxiety and guilt cards The Mood Cards