The Benefits of Being Assertive

the right fit

By: Edwin Ebreo

I always talk about this with my daughters. I encourage them to be assertive in their communications because assertive people posses distinct advantage over those who Are not. I see evidence of it everyday. Assertive people get to go after what they want and because they do, they are most likely to succeed. They enjoy more discounts, they get to negotiate their salaries better, are more likely to win deals with customers, get listened to and liked more than others. They are more likely to get the job done because they are able to seek the resources they need either from you, their workmates, the suppliers or the customers.

Let me make myself clear now. Assertiveness is not aggressiveness. Assertive people are not offensive while those who communicate aggressively can be quite abrasive. Assertive people, ask, stand their ground on issues and negotiate their way through but they do not use any autocratic power or emotional blackmail to get what they want. They are respectful but are not pushover. They can argue but they also listen.

Imagine having this kind of people in your team. They’d come forward with their observations and suggestions, they participate in improvement discussions and are able to express if their are experiencing any problem. An assertive purchasing person can negotiate for the suppliers’ best price, discounts, freebies and extended guarantees. An assertive Line Manager can communicate upward, downward and sidewards more effectively so that work is better coordinated. HR would be able to take a more effective internal consultant role because they are unafraid to call spade a spade.

The question now is if assertive communication is so beneficial, why are companies not so excited about helping their employees build the skill? The answer is they underestimate the entire concept of assertiveness. They underestimate its value, they underestimate what it takes to build a culture of open communication and they underestimate their own ability to make it happen.

Why, because most Filipinos are unassertive. We are either passive or aggressive. Being assertive is being in strange waters. It’s risky and we don’t want to risk it.

Being assertive is largely a matter of attitude as it is a matter of skills. Skills can be taught and attitudes can be changed. When people know how to be assertive, then they can decide to be assertive. If managers like you and me create an environment that encourages assertiveness, people become more confident and comfortable about being assertive and they become better at it. You reap the benefits after.

Give us a day and we will help your team develop awareness on how to be assertive. Afterward, your group can decide to build a work environment where assertiveness is encouraged.

When employees violate company policies, it is the supervisor or manager’s job to give the appropriate sanction. If an employee’s offense is minor or not grave enough to cause termination, the penalized employee will continue to be that supervisor’s staff and the supervisor will have to continue relying on that employee’s performance and results. How do you as a supervisor apply disciplinary action and build a stronger relationship with that employee at the same time? I believe this is an important question because often, violations of company policy result to loss of trust by the superior and embarrassment and resentment by the erring employee. Some relationships erode beyond repair after a confrontation due to policy violation. It is of no wonder why some supervisors look the other way when employees violate minor rules. This is probably because they don’t want to go through the confrontational, energy-zapping and relationship-damaging disciplinary action procedures. If you are a supervisor or a manager, here are a few suggestions on how to handle this kind of situation.

Be Clear About Your Objective
Disciplinary actions are more corrective measures than punishment. The punishment component is in place as a preventive measure. It is supposed to deter employees from violating policies and with sufficient communication it should. If an employee violates a policy, it is important to keep in mind that you are correcting performance or behavior. You’ve got to have a plan in order to be able to do this well. Why? Because every word you say or action you take may change the focus of the task  from being a corrective action that it should be to a revenge or punishment for a misdeed.

Choose to Trust
When you give another person another chance give it fully. After a suspension, the employee will go back to work with some degree of uncertainty about your confidence in that person. It is imperative that you are able to communicate that as long as the person do not violate another policy, that person have nothing to worry about. Encourage the person to concentrate on performance and make yourself more available as a coach so the person can feel that you are after his success and not his hide. I know that this can be difficult because of the trust-breaking nature of violations. However, lack of trust can have an unproductive effect to work relationship. While you might be thinking that it is the erring employee who should reach out and prove he can be trusted again, as a supervisor, you can choose to take the high ground by showing the person he is being trusted again.

Before or after the disciplinary action is served, it is important for both parties to talk. Serving a memo without talking sends a message that  the disciplinary action is a punishment and not a corrective measure. What should you as a supervisor say in this kind of situation?  Here are some statements I’ve used in the past that you might want to consider

  • “It pains me to ever have to issue this disciplinary action to you but rules are rules and we have to follow them otherwise we should just remove them”.
  • “Please think of this as a reminder that the company expects better from you and when you return to work, you can be assured that those expectations will still be there.”
  • “Let’s learn from this experience and move on so we can focus on the work at hand.”
  • “I want to be able to trust you again when you go back to work, what kind of commitment can I get from you to strengthen that trust?”
  • (And some encouragement for good measure) “I have every reason to believe that you can do better and I look forward to it. Please let me know what I can do so we can help each other better.

Feel free to use them in full or in parts depending on your unique situation.
Model the way
There is a reason why leadership is attached to your role as a supervisor or manager. This is because you need to lead. If you want a stronger more productive relationship with your employees, you need to show it by reaching out and helping an erring employee regain confidence in himself. Let him know that the chance he is having is being given in full and with your support. Remember the father and the prodigal son. Celebrate the return and allow the person to renew himself to you and the other members of the team. Just like in the prodigal son story, there will be those who will raise their eyebrows about the treatment you are giving a returning son, you may have to explain what you are trying to do.

Preventing this from happening
Building a positive relationship with your employees but at the same time establishing a firm stand against violating policies is critical to maintaining discipline in the workplace. Let it be known to them what you will and will not tolerate and remind them from time to time. If you build a strong enough relationship with your employees and they have a crystal clear understanding that you value alignment and discipline, they will do the right thing.

This quote posted in Facebook by a friend named Mars Paruli inspired this article:

“Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Encouragement after censure is as the sun after a shower.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This topic is also being discussed in our workshops on the following topics:

Basics of Leadership and Management

Assertive Communication Training