We all know what confidence is. But what about assertiveness? Look up a thesaurus and it gives synonyms such as ‘commanding’, ‘bullish’, ‘dominant’ and ‘forceful’, all exuding a negative undercurrent. But is assertiveness an undesirable trait? Not really. So what is assertiveness? Instead of a dictionary, it’s wiser to look at the idiom ‘putting down one’s foot’. This comes closest to explaining assertiveness. It means conveying in a determined manner to someone that they must or must not do something. Hence, assertiveness can be termed as the middle ground between passive and aggressive.
Assertiveness is behaviour learnt over years through interaction with others. The best salesperson displays admirable levels of assertiveness while closing a deal. Ditto for the entrepreneur who has to cope with the unexpected and often deal with aggressive clients.
1. Assertiveness is not aggression
There is only a fine line between being aggressive and being assertive. There can be situations that really test your patience and it is easy to lose your cool and raise your voice. Don’t. Keeping a tight rein on your temper and addressing the other person with respect and dignity will turn around things your way. The best way to deal with anger is to take a reflective moment or two. Of course it takes more effort to keep your calm and walk away but you will win the day.
A classic example is former hell-raiser Robert Downey Jr., during interviews. There is a sense of calm about the star even when he is being provoked. He usually looks intensely into the eyes of the interviewer and replies in a matter-of-fact way, devoid of anger. In extreme cases, he simply ups and leaves. Now, how’s that for class?
2. Lose your inhibitions
As an entrepreneur, being submissive and eager to please is not the best strategy. Not even for a startup event that happens right across the street. It is all right to be shy. But it is not all right to let yourself remain that way. You have to learn to be a good communicator. That old trick of standing before the mirror and practising your speech or sales pitch works every time. At parties, introduce yourself to people whom you would normally shy away from approaching. They could be useful contacts in future. Learn to make small talk: it puts you at ease.
3. Accept others’ viewpoints
Being assertive does not mean insensitivity to the other person’s point of view. If someone has opinions diametrically opposite to yours, learn not to be upset or irritated. Differences of opinion do not mean you are right and the other person is wrong or vice versa.
4. Be simple and direct when you talk
The hallmark of assertiveness is being direct. Be clear while stating what you want. Simple and clear instructions convey the message straightaway. Never discomfit the other person while putting your point across.
5. Do not be a doormat
You need to set your own boundaries about what is permissible and what isn’t. You don’t want to come across as a bully, nor do you want people to walk all over you. Hence, setting boundaries will empower you with the knowledge of when you should say yes and when no.
Like all skills, assertiveness is a one that needs to be learnt right. It might take a bit of time to find that perfect pitch, but it will work wonders in your life, both personal and professional. You can upgrade your skill by watching videos of charismatic leaders. Watch their body language and listen carefully to what they have to say. And, before you know it, you will find yourself becoming an assertive leader.