How to Use Assertiveness to Benefit Your Business

An understanding of assertiveness is key for any business owner. We look at it’s benefits and how to incorporate it into your firm's culture

How to Use Assertiveness to Benefit Your Business

Not to be confused with aggressiveness, assertiveness is a valued trait in business; an assertive approach in the right context can lead to more sales, more effective customer service and a stronger business overall.

You might think of yourself or your workforce as somewhat shy or lacking in confidence, but there are ways you can examine your approach and become more assertive yourself. This article will give you the low-down on how to increase assertiveness in your business; covering the general principles of assertiveness, techniques for increasing assertiveness, and which aspects of your business could gain the most from assertive people.

What is assertiveness?

The key to assertiveness is openness; assertive people are seen as honest, trustworthy and frank, whilst not being overly aggressive or apologetic. An assertive person will treat you as an equal and emphasise the benefits of communication to achieve a positive result.

There are some basic traits of assertiveness you can easily pick up:

Stating personal opinions honestly

Instead of being accusatory or apologetic, an assertive person will state their own viewpoint in a simple, non-confrontational style. As an example, instead of saying ‘you haven’t been making enough sales’, an assertive person would say ‘I would like you to work on your sales technique’.

Speaking directly

Beating around the bush to get to a point only makes you appear weak. An assertive approach would involve stating the point you want to make simply, without apology or elaboration.

Sticking by your guns

Even if someone vehemently disagrees, an assertive person will not change their mind if they know what they are saying or doing is valid.

Staying calm

Giving into anger immediately cedes control; an assertive person should remain in control wherever possible. To put this into practice, try to avoid bottling things up or repressing valid concerns until you explode – express your concerns honestly and without delay. Avoid aggressive body language such as pointing fingers or shouting and remember that nothing should make you angry if you don’t want it to.

Saying no

Simply assenting to something to avoid conflict will only lead to problems in the long run. If you can’t find common ground, simply agree to disagree.

What are the benefits of assertiveness at work?

An assertive workforce can bring your business a host of benefits, and assertiveness training teaches people to respect themselves and respect others.

Some particular benefits of an assertive approach to your workforce are respect and clarity – a workforce that feels respected is one that is more likely to be respectful in return; particularly valuable in businesses which have regular contact with members of the public. Also being assertive when giving feedback will give people a better idea of what is expected of them at work, and will improve your productivity as a result.

An assertive approach will also help during consultation and when dealing with mistakes. Employees who are involved in the decision-making process are much more likely to comply with those decisions. It is important to note that if you run a business with more than 50 employees they can require you to set up an information and consultation agreement and an assertive workforce will recognise that mistakes happen, accept responsibility accordingly, and deal with them quickly, rather than blaming or finger-pointing. A culture of blaming can have a seriously negative impact on your business.

How can I be assertive when dealing with feedback?

The ability to give constructive feedback is a key trait of senior people in an organisation. You can spot a manager who has had assertiveness training as they will be particularly honest about performance whilst achieving a constructive outcome.

To incorporate elements of assertiveness when giving feedback, you should give feedback in private. Employees who receive negative feedback in front of colleagues may feel backed into a corner or bullied and get overly defensive as a result.

Also be constructive and allow the employee to explain themselves. Know what outcome you have to achieve when giving feedback – if it is simply to vent frustration at someone, think again about giving it. Suggest ways of improving the performance or behaviour in issue, but try to allow the other person to select their own solution. And try not to rush in with criticism or blame. Sometimes you may have misunderstood the context of the behaviour or performance in issue. Share how you see the facts with the employee, and ask them questions like ‘Is that fair?’ and ‘How do you view this?’ to encourage them to give their side of the story. Listen to what they have to say in response and take it into account.

Show you understand. Listen carefully to what the other person has to say and show you have taken it in by articulating their views or concerns back to them.  If you don’t understand an explanation or answer, ask further questions to get to the bottom of things and try not to jump to conclusions.

Give credit for good performance. If you need to rectify generally poor performance, sugaring the pill by giving credit where credit is due will go a long way in achieving a positive outcome.

Offer appropriate apologies, sometimes you will find you were in the wrong. It is not a sign of weakness to offer an apology yourself where necessary – on the contrary, it will strengthen the bonds between you and your employee. Finally, summarise what has been agreed and make sure you are on the same page as to what the issues were and how you will rectify them going forward.

How to stay assertive when receiving feedback

You might think that when confronted with negative feedback themselves, assertive people will defend their actions to the hilt and give no ground. However, sometimes assertiveness requires you to accept honest feedback, take it on the chin, and adjust your behaviour accordingly. Indeed, a well-run organisation will often see a constructive exchange of feedback across different levels of seniority.

When receiving criticism, you should make sure not to make excuses. Unless you have valid excuses, do not try and explain away poor performance in a way that won’t stand up to scrutiny. This will just make you appear weak.

Also accept valid criticism: try and separate out your natural aversion to criticism with the actual points being made. Do not let instinctive defensiveness cloud your judgement. The same goes for praise – it can useful too, so learn from it accordingly.

Finally, ask for examples. For instance, if you feel a criticism being levelled at you is unfair, ask for specific examples of the behaviour being referred to.

How can I deal with requests in an assertive manner?

When making a request from an employee, an assertive approach will involve being honest and frank about what is involved. As long as the request is reasonable, do not apologise for asking – it is their job, after all. Do not pretend that a job will be easier or shorter than it actually will in order to make it appear more attractive; this will just breed resentment against you.

Sometimes you will be faced with an unreasonable request from a customer or employee which you have to turn down. Both customers and employees at least deserve an explanation for the refusal as a bare minimum, and you should suggest alternatives where possible. If you mean ‘no’, don’t say ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll think about it’ – creating false hope shows a lack of respect.

How do I handle complaints in an assertive manner?

How you handle unhappy customers is crucial for the long-term wellbeing of your business, so it is important you get it right. An assertive person will handle complaints in a way that makes the customer feel valued and respected.

When dealing with a complaint, you should start by showing you are making an effort to understand. Let the customer know you are trying to understand the true nature of their grievance in order to take it on board.

Also ask them to clarify where necessary. Summarise what you think their complaint or issue is and ask them whether your understanding of the situation is correct.

Make sure to acknowledge the legitimacy of their complaint. This doesn’t necessarily involve accepting blame; sympathise with their point of view by telling them you are sorry they feel this way about your product or service.

Remember never assign blame, although it’s obvious to not blame the customer, it is also bad practice to blame your employees or suppliers. Finally go through the complaint step-by-step. Identifying exactly what is gone wrong will help you to put it right.

How do I deal with angry people in an assertive manner?

When faced with an angry person, be it a customer or colleague, it is easy to lose your cool and forget how to deal with the situation properly.  Being assertive involves taking positive steps to actively manage the situation. In particular identify the cause of the situation. Especially with a customer, do not try and make excuses as this will only increase their anger. Identify the real cause of concern and take positive steps to deal with it.

And allow them to cool off. If someone has really lost it, it’s best to wait until they have calmed down before initiating dialogue. Tell them that the conversation must wait. And if someone is being offensive, end the conversation. You are well within your rights to walk away in the face of personal abuse, even if the offender is a customer.

How do I foster a culture of assertiveness in my business?

Having assertive people throughout your business is a major plus point, so you should foster a culture of assertiveness in order to bring this out.

In particular, provide key employees with assertiveness training. Starting with customer-facing employees such as salespeople and receptionists, teach them the principles outlined in this article.

Also foster a ‘win-win’ culture. In a situation where there is a binary divide between winners and losers, bullies will win out and co-operation will suffer. Support assertive behaviour, plain speaking, and mutually supportive working practices. Be aware that training some of your more ambitious, confident employees.

By being an assertive business owner you will come across as an honest and effective leader; furthermore by ensuring an assistive environment is present in your company will help develop teamwork and openness among employees, and it will come across as trustworthy to customers.


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