A Coaching Power Tool created by Lisa Sennhauser-Kelly
(Executive Coach, SWITZERLAND)
In both a professional corporate environment as well as in private situations, people are faced with many challenges. How individuals deal with those challenges can influence the outcome. Being assertive is important in order that your perspective is understood by those around you. It is important that all points of view in a meeting, working group, or a marriage, are brought to play. Being very clear about your viewpoint can influence the environment or situation, and the outcome. Some people can be assertive in a corporate environment but are not assertive at home with their spouses. In some cases the reverse is true.
Definition of Assert
To assert something, according to MacMillanDictionary.com is to state firmly that something is true, to speak or behave in a firm, confident way. To assert yourself is to state your opinion firmly or confidently.
For example, in a corporate environment an assertive employee would always manage to assert his point of view, whereas a shy employee might find it more difficult to assert himself in a group or meeting.
Definition of Accept
While accept primarily means to willingly take, receive or agree to an object or an idea. (yourdictionary.com) it can also mean “to admit to; be resigned to” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary) or “to endure resignedly or patiently: accept one’s fate” (Yourdictionary.com) or Merriam-webster.com/dictionary to regard as “inevitable”.
It is the latter form of accept that we are comparing here … where someone chooses to take a passive role and accept – perhaps even endure, or regard as inevitable – a decision or perspective of another.
Balancing an assertive approach versus accepting the outcomes.
In a corporate environment one employee may feel he or she has to accept the decisions taken even if they are incorrect, rather than asserting their viewpoints. The same can be true in a private setting, there are people that always assert their views,
and others that choose to accept the status quo. By acquiescing to the process or to the mindset of others, the outcome may not be desirable for you or for the company or family. Diversity in a group brings creativity, but not if the individuals don’t speak up. It can be particularly difficult to assert your opinion if you are already different, e.g by gender or by nationality or culture, to the others in the group, however it is this diversity that makes the group stronger and it is important that each individual asserts his right to have an opinion and to express it.
Corporate or Business environment
In a competitive corporate environment being assertive is seen as positive, as long as it is not aggressive or overbearing. People who are assertive about their own needs and desires, and their own expectations, make it easier for those around that person to place them. However an employee who is simply accepting the opinions or suggestions or outcomes defined by others is not helping the employer or themselves.
Example 1: Promotions. Assume there are two employees in the same team with equal ability and knowledge, and who had equally exceptional performance in the current year, and there is a possibility for only one of them to be promoted. If one employee asserts his right to promotion, and the other prefers to simply accept the boss’s choice, then the choice becomes far simpler. The assertive one is deemed to “want it more” or be more ambitious. The two may be equally ambitious, but it is not apparent due to the lack of assertiveness.
Example 2: Meeting direction In a meeting one employee A makes a statement which another, B, feels to be incorrect. If B is assertive and speaks up the meeting could take a more neutral path or at least discuss and explore both directions. If B chooses to accept what he/she believes to be an incorrect statement, the meeting could turn in an inappropriate direction, which is a waste of everyone’s time. It is important to be assertive and state positively what one believes and not to allow the meeting to go in a direction which you believe to be inappropriate.
An assertive business woman is married to an assertive business man. In her corporate environment the woman is comfortable stating her opinions and viewpoints, and knows that her perspective is valued. The man too. Are they also assertive at home?
Example 3:Asserting own views at home
At home, however, it could be that one partner is less comfortable and assertive around decisions related to the home or children or family spending. Thus “accepting”, “assuming” or “perceiving” that the decisions will be appropriately made by the partner. This may work for a period of time, but eventually this can lead to an imbalance in the decision making and associated resentment or feeling left out on the part of one spouse or even both. This is no longer a team.
Example 4: Asserting own needs at home
Or one partner may be less assertive when it comes to spending time on his or herself. Instead of speaking up, one partner may “accept”, “assume” or “perceive” that it is not appropriate to go to the spa, or play golf at the weekend, or go out for drinks.
Being assertive is not about having something you are not entitled to. It is about having an opinion or a perspective, and speaking up about it in an open manner. Whether at work or at home.
Being assertive requires courage, more than facts. It requires one to be able to listen to one’s own voice, and to be prepared to speak up. It is having faith in one’s own knowledge, or at least, that one’s own knowledge is not less than another’s knowledge and skills. Accepting is always easier and potentially always “right” where you cannot prove it to be wrong. However accepting can end up with an outcome which is not desired, potentially also not desired by the other parties involved (the group, the team, or the family).
The coach can help a client become more assertive, beginning with creating awareness of skills and abilities, and encouraging the client to become more confident and to speak up and assert their rights. Here are examples of some useful coaching questions.
Corporate or Business environment
Have you experienced a situation where you did assert yourself? How did it work out for you? What was the outcome? If you did assert yourself in this situation what would be the worst thing that could happen? e.g. you would not get the promotion. What would be the best thing? e.g. You get the promotion, which if you did not ask, you would definitely not have received. If you do not assert yourself now and explain to your boss your expectation regarding promotion, do you think that he will be aware of it? How? Is there someone else in the time likely to be asking for this promotion? Is he/her likely to assert himself and ask for it? What do you think the outcome will be?
If you did assert yourself and tell your partner your needs or views, what would be the worst thing that could happen? Is that likely? Or have you asserted yourself with your partner on decisions regarding the children in the past? How did that work out for you?
Can you imagine that it can work again this time? Do you see your partner being favorable to this outcome if you explain the circumstances?
It is important that we are aware of our own levels of assertiveness. And it is important to help our clients see where they are assertive, and where they might be more accepting, and if there is a need to balance up the level of assertiveness vs acceptance in differing situations. Being aware of one’s level of assertiveness, and how that is perceived by others, can be a very powerful tool.