Working Assertive, Not Aggressive

I have a personal interest in this topic. Early in my career, I was working for a large retail company in their corporate headquarters. During one of my annual reviews, it was brought to my attention that others perceived my behavior as “aggressive”.  WOW.  That was an eye-opener. I thought I was being assertive, not aggressive.  If I wanted my career to continue to grow, I knew I would need to make some changes.  But where to start?

I became an observer of other employees. I watched how they behaved, how they responded to problems and how they interacted with higher level executives.  I noticed the difference in aggressive versus assertive behavior was two-fold. Both verbal and physical language was involved.  By observing these two aspects, it became clear to me who would be advancing in their careers and who would not.

I began to change my words, tone and delivery of my messages.  I made changes in my body language and I learned to listen to what the other person was saying.  It was amazing what happened when I began to understand where the other person was coming from through my own positive behavior.

But I must admit my transformation from aggressive to assertive was gradual. It was a lot of trial and error and quite a bit of frustration. By sharing what I learned, I hope it will make the transition much easier for others.

Let’s start with the spoken word.  “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” -Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936, English Writer.  This is a wonderful quote because the words you use are powerful.  They can have a positive or a negative impact on the person with whom you are communicating.  Watch the words you speak. You can choose less offensive words and still get your point across. For example: Being aggressive, you might say “I can’t believe you missed another dead line.  You’re putting the entire project at risk.” An assertive response could be “John, I see you missed your due date again.  I know you understand the importance of completing the project on time.  Is there some way the team can help you meet these dates?”

Along with the word, is the delivery of your message. It comes from the tone of voice that you use.  Is your tone positive, angry, condescending, sarcastic, kind, understanding, excited, empathic, or happy? The tone reinforces the words you use.  Think of the last conversation you had that was uncomfortable for you. What words and tone did the other person use and how did you react?

You can be angry or frustrated and still use positive words and tone to get your message across.  The delivery will be more impactful and more effective if it does not put the other person in a defensive mode that closes them off to what you are saying.  Others will like working with you because you can get your point across and be firm in your convictions without attacking or putting down the other person. That’s being assertive.

Body language is the second part of aggressive versus assertive behavior. Your words may say one thing, but people believe what your body is communicating. What is aggressive body language? It’s in your facial expressions: crunched forehead, tight mouth, squinty eyes; your arms – folded, exaggerated movements, clenched fists or pointing a finger; your posture – stiff, leaning forward and in their face, or turned away as if you’re indifferent.  Be relaxed within yourself so that your body language remains natural and calm.

If you’ve now decided you need to work on your aggressiveness, remember it takes 21 days to start a new behavior. You must practice the new behavior for 21 days for it to begin to take hold and 100 days for it to become automatic. Then your new words, tone, and body language will be natural to you. 

Are the changes worth it? Take it from me, they are. Today’s work environment is highly competitive both within a company as well as those seeking employment.  Learning and understanding what assertive behavior is can really help you build relationships and your career.  Be assertive and be a step ahead of your competition! 

On March 27th, 2012, posted in: Articles, Etiquette, Work Place Conduct by
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