In my professional life, I have had the opportunity to supervise and manage some awesome people. I’ve also had the opportunity to manage some not-so-awesome people, as well. In both instances, I’ve always heard the same thing from business owners and partners when it comes to me and other employees: “Justin, you are too nice.” I used to get really defensive about it. I’d say things like, “well, I used to have a shitty boss, so I never want to be one.” The truth is, the problem wasn’t that I was too nice, it was that I wasn’t assertive enough. People seem to think that to be assertive you have to be bossy, and that’s not the case. Being assertive is an artform of sorts. It’s maintaining that balance between being in charge and being overbearing.
You can be the nicest or meanest person in the world and still not be assertive.
And the funny thing about being assertive is that it doesn’t just apply to your professional life. Being assertive is a key social function in any setting. No one wants to be a doormat their entire life. So, knowing that being assertive is a critical part of a good social or professional situation, here are the keys to being assertive without being bossy or controlling:
Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say
I harp on communication a lot. Whether I am talking about relationships, business, friends, family, basically any interaction with another human being. The reason is that there are no confirmed cases of people who can legitimately read minds. Even if there were, they would be too few and far between to make a difference, so you have to tell people what it is that you want. If you leave people to make assumptions, you’re at the mercy of what THEY think YOU need. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate. In fact, over-communication can be a great tool.
Take Responsibility for How YOU Feel
A lot of times we hold back from telling people what we need because we are worried about how they will feel. In a professional setting, it might be something like reprimanding someone for something they did wrong. In a personal setting, it might be worrying that a friend will be upset if you don’t like something. In either scenario, you’re worrying about how someone will react to a situation, instead of worrying about you are going to feel about the outcome. In that professional setting, you’ve now got an employee who is going to continue to screw up. In that personal setting, you’re going to end up with a friend that will keep putting you in a situation you don’t like. Either way, you’re choosing their feelings over yours.
As a boss or as a friend, when you do what you need to do the very last thing in the world you should do is apologize. Business decisions aren’t personal, and you need to make that separation. In social settings, if you’re looking out for yourself, there is no need to be sorry. Self-preservation is a strong instinct and one that should not be ignored. You especially don’t need to apologize for how something makes you feel. Emotional intelligence is all about understanding what you feel and why. Explaining how you feel is a much more constructive behavior than apologizing for it.
The main key to being assertive is keeping your cool. Maintaining control as opposed to becoming emotional is the best way to maintain control of a situation. Yes, assertion is about control, let’s be clear about that. Keep in mind, there is a difference between having people follow you willingly, and standing on a chair with a whip. In a professional sense, Being effectively assertive is all about people having faith in you and believing that you are leading them in the right direction. In a personal sense, being assertive is a way of establishing boundaries that people will respect.