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Being more assertive

Updated: Feb 26

How often do you wish you'd spoken up about something you believed in or something you didn't like, then the moment passes, or the situation happens again and we feel we have to accept it because we didn't speak up the first time, or we just don't know where to start.

Last week as part of our Professional Development training we ran a Webinar for the Educators and Teachers from the PLS member Early Learning Centres and Primary Schools, which was all about self-leadership and leadership of others and how we build our skills in both.

And one of the important key concepts we explored in this teacher professional development experience, which relates to all of us, is assertiveness.

Speaking up when it matters to share our opinion or feelings about a topic builds our feelings of confidence, and builds our self-leadership skills, which in turn provides a role model to others.

Consider this scenario:

You've been working at the same place for years, and you generally get along well with others. Lately you've been hearing some of your colleagues making some really unkind comments about the new boss. You've heard the term 'old bag', and heard them speaking poorly about this person's choice of clothes and car.

You think this is terrible.

Up until now you've tried to avoid them or sometimes you pretend you haven't heard. Today they try and get you involved in the conversation at lunch again.

What do you do?

You could:

A) Just smile as the others talk. ‘As long as I don't say anything I’m not agreeing’ you say to yourself.

B) You make an excuse to have lunch on your own again. 'Not my circus, not my monkeys' you think.

C) You've had enough. You've listened to this too many times. When your colleague makes another disrespectful comment, you erupt, 'You're all a bunch of children. Stop being so bitchy and get over yourselves!!'

Are any of these approaches assertive?

A business consultant I used to work with many years ago said 'Silence is passionate agreement!' which encouraged me to start speaking up in meetings if I had an opinion different to the one being presented. So that cuts out option A.

And avoiding the issue sometimes only prolongs it or you can then be seen as someone who looks like you aren't a team player.

If you bust out with an emotional outburst after never saying anything before about a problem, chances are your colleagues will just think you're having a bad day, or the problem could get worse. That's more passive-aggressive.

So what do you say? How can you be more assertive? These tips might help:

Talk about how you feel.

Using the sentence structure 'When ............, I feel........' keeps the focus of the conversation on how you feel, and no one can argue with your feelings because they're yours. Alternatively, if you say, 'When you gossip, I think you're being mean', others can start to argue about any labels you've chosen. If you say' When you talk (about people) like this, I feel uncomfortable', that's simply a statement of how you feel and is less likely to encourage a disagreement.

Practice your tone of voice.

You must speak in a warm non-threatening and respectful tone of voice, at a medium volume. Tone is said to represent 38% of your message face to face, and more on the phone so this is important that it remains supportive. Practicing your tone can really help.

Expect some sort of response.

If you haven't spoken up much before, the people who you usually communicate with could potentially look at you strangely. They may be a little shocked. Just hold your ground and say nothing, or repeat what you said the first time, or smile. People are made to and need to connect with each other, and unfortunately even as young children we can see gossip as a way to make personal connections. If a person is not there to respond for themselves then we can lead the way with helping people find ways to make more positive connections with each other.

Take a deep breath.

When we are trying anything new and especially when working on our assertive communication skills it can feel a little stressful. Taking one big deep breath can help you plan what you will say and will help you feel more confident. And if you don't say something this time, it's never too late to come back. You can always say 'you know the other day when .........., well I felt or I feel........'

Start with one step.

Start with one small sentence that you have practiced and then build up.

The first time you speak up you might say one short 'When...... I feel.......' sentence. Then as you build your skills you might eventually be able to say something like this:

'I really enjoy working with you guys. We have lots in common and I love our lunch time chats. At the same time when you talk like this about someone who's not here I feel really uncomfortable. To be honest I don't think what you're saying about the new boss is fair or kind. I want to give him/her a chance and focus on her ability as a ___________ and I'm not interested in what he/she looks like or the kind of car he/she drives. I'd really prefer that we talk about something else, is that ok?'

That's leadership.

To watch our latest Tuesday tip video all about assertiveness you can check it out on youtube or on facebook.

Until next time,

The PLS team

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