Have you ever left an interaction at work feeling a bit like a doormat? You need more resources to finish a project or you really can’t work that extra shift your boss asked you to do. Instead of telling them “No” or requesting more help, you quietly go without. It happens to many of us. If you’re someone who’s usually pretty laid-back it may not feel like that big of a deal.
Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.Wendy Wasserstein
However, you might be missing more than you think. There are benefits to communicating your needs, assertively. According to the Mayo Clinic, behaving assertively can boost your self-esteem, improve your decision-making skills, create deeper relationships with your coworkers, and much more.
Don’t let others put thoughts into your mind that takes away your self-confidence.Katori Hall
So let’s be honest: some of us don’t want much out of our workplace. Maybe you just want your paycheck and time off and all of this seems like extra stuff. Think about this: not speaking out communicates that your thoughts and feelings aren’t as important as others. The Mayo Clinic says that passive behaviors can lead to stress, resentment, and serious anger. So it’s really not great to never assert yourself.
Assertive Not Aggressive
However, there’s a difference between assertive behavior and aggressive behavior. Outright aggressive behavior can humiliate and intimidate others. Aggression can undermine mutual respect and trust. Maybe that’s totally out of your wheelhouse but you need to be careful about passive-aggressive behavior. It can be just as toxic to a workplace. It involves only showing your anger or feelings through a negative attitude or actions. That includes being sarcastic or complaining about others behind their backs. Let’s be honest, no one wants to deal with a passive-aggressive coworker. If you’ve switched into passive-aggressive behavior, you can pretty easily start to isolate yourself from the rest of your team.
What’s Happening Now?
So you don’t want to be passive-aggressive and regular aggressive isn’t much better. So how do you start the journey toward polite but impactful assertiveness? Start by analyzing your current approach to communication. Take a week or so to take note of how you’re currently communicating in the workplace. Are you saying “Yes,” when you actually mean “No?” Are you picking up projects that you don’t have room for? Are you agreeing to work when you really can’t fit an extra shift?
Once you look at the problems look at how you react to them. Are you expressing any of your concerns about these issues? If you do, what happens? Do you wind up doing the extra work anyway? How and why? Do you find yourself getting persuaded to do it even after expressing concerns? Take some written notes if that helps.
Time to Practice
Now that you can clearly see the problem, it’s time to work on a solution. Personally, it helps me a lot to organize my thoughts before I wind up in a situation. If you’re not used to being more assertive and potentially managing some conflict, then it may be hard to think when you’re suddenly placed in a situation. So you may want to rehearse what you’re going to say before the situation pops up. Make sure you practice this in the mirror and maybe even with a friend. This way you won’t have to think when the problem arises, you can just act.
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.Warren Buffett
So lay out what you want to communicate. If you tend to get extra projects dumped on you practice saying something like “I have a lot on my hands right now and won’t be able to take on that project now. Maybe I can help you later on when I clear my plate a bit.” If you tend to get assigned extra shifts try “I’m sorry but I really can’t make this shift on (specify the date.) Can you get someone else to fill it?”
There may be an instinct to have to have an excuse when you say this. For example, “I can’t work that shift because I had plans to see a family member that day.” That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it’s important not to get into the habit of finding excuses not to work excessive hours. It’s one thing to have to call out for your regular shift. But if you find yourself regularly being scheduled to work six, seven, or even more days in a row, you don’t need an excuse to not do that. Your goal should be to work a regular work week and not find a reason to avoid it only this time around.
That’s part of a larger thing you may need to practice: simply saying “no.” If you’re reading this you likely struggle with turning down requests. So you need to practice statements like this “No, I can’t do that right now.” You can still be polite and respectful but direct.
If you’re still struggling to come up with things to say, use “I” statements, like we talked about earlier. You can probably see how “I disagree” sounds much better than “you’re wrong. Being told “I would like to help you with this,” feels much better than “You need to do this.” These “I” statements allow you to express what you’re thinking and feeling without sounding accusatory. They also keep your requests simple and brief.
Assertive but Patient
Stepping into a more assertive role can feel a bit daunting. If you try to do it all at one time, it may actually be daunting. So be patient with yourself and start small.
The practice of assertiveness: being authentic in our dealings with others; treating our values and persons with decent respect in social contexts; refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval; the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts. – Nathaniel Branden
Maybe you start by addressing the situations in your workplace that frustrate you the least. Pracitce being more assertive in those situations to get a feel for what it looks like. What kind of things do you say? What kind of things do others say? Revise your plan for addressing these circumstances. Maybe you need to simply start with saying the word “No,” at first. Once you get more comfortable with that try speaking up at the next meeting or taking another step to become more assertive.
There are times you may fall back into some submissive ways, but don’t get discouraged. This is an investment in your career, your professional relationships, and most importantly your own mental health. And that investment is 100% worth it. You are worth it. So keep working at it and you’ll soon be a much more assertive force in the workplace.