Once again, are you bailing a colleague out of his professional duties? Are you sitting out after work hours? Or do you agree to schedule changes that don’t benefit you? If you answered yes to any (or all) of the questions, you are probably not assertive enough.
Each person has his or her own physical and psychological boundaries. The physical ones are related to touch – many people greet each other with a handshake or a hug as a greeting, but for some, such physical contact may exceed their boundaries. Mental boundaries, on the other hand, define acceptable engagement. For example, one employee will not mind extra overtime, while another, due to having children or other multiple responsibilities, may not want to stay longer at work.
Before we can learn to clearly express our opinions and needs and set boundaries, we must first identify where they run, and consider what we are comfortable with and what makes us feel used.
What is assertiveness?
Assertiveness is often equated with the ability to say “no.” However, such a definition of the term is insufficient. Assertiveness also means the ability to say “yes” and to respect not only one’s own boundaries, but also those of others. It is the ability to have one’s own opinion and express it without succumbing to excessive emotions. Being assertive also involves skillful self-assessment of one’s own actions and behavior.
Assertiveness is a desirable soft skill both in everyday life and in the workplace. We often fear that if we say no to someone or make our opinion clear, we will be met with condemnation, contribute to the outbreak of an argument or be judged negatively or perhaps even treated with aggression. Meanwhile, assertiveness makes it easier to build interpersonal relationships, especially on a professional footing. An assertive attitude indicates healthy self-confidence, awareness of one’s competence and the ability to express an opinion and argue it. And this is what professionalism at work is all about.
Why is assertiveness at work so important?
Assertiveness helps avoid many uncomfortable situations. If we directly communicate and justify why we can’t do something, we reduce the level of stress and mental strain we would be exposed to if we couldn’t say no after all. Professional life is not about meeting someone else’s expectations, but about working to the best of one’s ability and being satisfied with the tasks at hand. A refusal expressed in a calm manner, with respect for the other person, will not be equated with defiance, laziness or lack of humility, which is what we often fear. It is through an assertive attitude that one manages to create professional, but also benevolent relationships with colleagues.
On the one hand, assertiveness at work is necessary to maintain a work-life balance, and on the other hand, it helps build a career, as assertive people are often more productive, more effective in action and more focused on the goal than those who have difficulty defining boundaries and expressing their own opinion. However, it should be emphasized that assertiveness is needed at work by all employees, regardless of their position. Everyone should be aware of their own value.
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