5 Ways to be more assertive and less aggressive

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If you google “What's the difference between being assertive and aggressive” the first answer you will get is: Assertive people state their opinions, while still being respectful of others. Aggressive people attack or ignore others' opinions in favour of their own. Passive people don't state their opinions at all.

As you can see, it’s essential to build your assertiveness skills, if you want to thrive in your diverse workplace.

Here are 5 easy steps you can take that will help you to become more assertive:

i) Be a good listener – They say that the smartest people, say the least. Listening to the other person’s perspective shows respect. To show respect, you need to be really listening and not merely thinking of what your own response will be, while the other person is talking. If you really listen you will get to know the other person’s view holistically, which will help you to make your point more effectively.

ii) Make eye-contact, and keep a positive posture – Be sure not to stare – that can be a little aggressive, but if you keep eye-contact with someone for about 70% of the time, you show that you are interested in what they are saying, and respectful of their opinion. Keeping the mood positive also filters down to your body language. Keep yourself upright, relaxed, and leaning slightly toward the person (without stepping into their personal space) to show interest. Don’t tighten your jaw, clench your fists or fold your arms. These signs of aggression will be sure to give off the wrong impression.

iii) Validate the other person’s point of view, or feelings – Just because you, and your co-workers have walked into an office space, it doesn’t mean that all emotions are left at the door. Connect with your colleagues by acknowledging that they may be under stress, frustrated or ecstatic and distracted. By using phrases such as “I understand that the workload and meeting deadlines can be stressful. You’re right to be angry, I sometimes feel the same…”; this can change your relationship in a positive way and build rapport with your team members.

iv) Watch your people radar – The key difference between assertiveness and aggression lies in your emotional intelligence. Observe the reactions of your colleagues and identify what makes them tick. If you are dealing with someone slightly more sensitive – approaching them with information in a direct and abrupt manner can result in misunderstanding and disagreement. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with a direct, and detail orientated person – don’t address them and have a 30-minute chat about their goldfish before you get to the point. This will leave them frustrated and unlikely to take your point seriously.

v) Learn to say “No” – People who lack assertiveness really struggle with this one. You are only one person, and over committing yourself will not only affect the quality of your work in each individual project but it may result in major health issues, which leads to no productivity on any project. When you do say no, try to find a win-win solution that will work for everyone. Delegate, or suggest other colleagues who you think would thrive in that particular situation. Remember too, that you don’t always need to justify your no., letting the other person sit with their disappointment at your ‘no’, is also ok.

You can learn more of these skills on the Assertiveness, Conflict and Confidence at Work course, presented by KumaloGreen Training.

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