"Are You Really Being Assertive?"
by Bauback Yeganeh, Ph.D.

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I'd like to briefly discuss a key point that has emerged in many of my leadership development programs around aggression. Whether conscious or not, we place others on a spectrum ranging from passive to aggressive. Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum lies a label called "assertive".  Our observed behaviors are filtered through many complex and dynamic layers, including those of personality, social norms, culture, and history. So how do leaders obtain the ever desirable impression of being assertive? Since we all fall on either side of this moving target, it helps to turn to a bit of wisdom from the book "Getting to Yes", based on the Harvard Negotiation Project.  A powerful message from this book is that passive leaders tend to be soft on the person whom they are interacting with and soft on the issue of discussion. In contrast, aggressive leaders tend to be firm on both the person and the issue of discussion. Assertive leaders, however, are soft on the person yet firm on the issue. This means that assertive leaders are considering peoples' perspectives, acknowledging their interests, and then directly sharing their own contexts for why they think the way they do about what they are trying to accomplish. Assertiveness requires asking open-ended questions and actively paraphrasing the answers being received, regardless of agreement. It requires a discipline of observing the process of communicative interactions, rather than solely focusing on the content of them. It also means that interacting this way is not an add-on to the job, rather it is the core work of leaders. Leaders who can achieve an assertive communication style are better able to move a team toward a strategic direction, foster respect, and create an atmosphere of positivity.