“The basic difference between being assertive and aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others.” - Sharon Anthony Bower
Oprah Winfrey calls it “the disease to please”. Nowhere, except a woman’s world, does it run more rampant than in the workplace. There is a special pressure in the workplace from your boss, supervisor, associates and co-workers. Everyone is extremely busy these days. This disease seems to attack women more frequently, but men can be affected by it too.
Assertiveness should not be confused with aggressiveness. A fine line divides these two behaviors. Being aggressive means selfishly pushing for what you want at the expense of other people. In doing so, you generate a host of negative behaviors that make people become angry and vengeful towards you. It may involve hostility, blaming, threats, gossip, and unreasonable demands.
Aggressiveness may allow you to achieve your immediate objective, but it also guarantees that you will not have what you want the next time.
On the other hand, assertiveness means standing up for your rights while respecting the rights of others. Being assertive means appropriate expression of your feelings, needs, and opinions while respecting the feelings of others. It is communicating what you really want in a clear way while ensuring that you are not being taken advantage of.
Let us say your boss asks you to do a special favor for him. Now here is the problem: that little favor is beyond your job description. In fact, it is within the scope of his duty as the Boss. Now you have a dilemma.
Do you say “no” because it is not your responsibility to do his job, thereby run the risk of incurring his ire? Or do you say yes just to avoid making him angry? After all, you need this job desperately considering the mountains of bills that you have to pay monthly; thus, you really can’t afford to make him angry.
On the other hand, you know very well that if you do his job the first time, it is most likely that he will be asking you to do things that he should be doing himself. This will eventually develop into a pattern. You do it this time and he will just keep on turning over his responsibilities to you. Before you knew it, a habit is formed and you are stuck. If previously you gave in to some of his requests, saying “no” now would make him mad at you.
After all, you have been doing it before, why not do it again this time?
So, what is the answer? Be assertive right at the beginning and in all instances until the Boss realizes that you cannot be pushed around. You do not need to get nasty or abusive with him. In fact, you will probably lose your job if you do!
Be assertive right at the beginning when he asks you to take over some project that he should be doing. You could tell him, “I’d love to help you out, but I’m just swamped with my own work already. I couldn’t possibly do justice to your project that it rightfully deserves.”
Go ahead and check the language used above and you will find out that you have not directly said no to him or embarrassed him, so he cannot be too angry with you. You have acknowledged that his project is worthy of attention, but gently nudged him into remembering that it is his project and that it is his duty to finish it, not yours.
What you have done here is set a precedence that he will remember. You did not blindly just say yes to avoid his anger. He is the Boss and would have taken advantage of your skills many times in the future. For example, every time he has a project that he did not want to tackle himself, he will just pass it on to you. Now he knows he cannot just dump his duties on your lap all the time. You may have to repeat this action a couple more times before he gets the message.
The same scenario should work with co-workers who try to pass on the jobs they do not want to do. This trick is used mercilessly on newcomers in the office. Newcomers try so hard to please everyone that they get stuck with all the less desirable tasks and find themselves with very little time to accomplish the duties they were actually hired to perform.
Why do people continue to say “yes” when they want to say “no”? There are many reasons actually. One reason is that they want people to like them. They are afraid that if they say “no”, they will have no friends at all. They are also afraid that the boss will use their refusal as a ground for insubordination, and thereby dismiss them.
One reason why people are continually doing this is that they want to be known as the “go-to” person. They want to develop a good reputation and be known as dependable and can always accomplish the task. It makes them feel wanted, needed, and more valuable to the organization. If you want something accomplished, just take it to these “go-to” persons and consider it already done! It makes them feel good when they feel like you cannot do without them.
After all, if everyone needs them, then their job must be secure, right?
Unfortunately, this inability to say “no” can work to your detriment. It causes a buildup of stress hormones, such as adrenaline. As a result, your heart will beat faster than its normal pace, your blood pressure rises, and blood vessels become narrow. According to doctors, these conditions can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and even cancer. Saying “yes” to others all the time could put you in an early grave!
In the early days of man, these stress hormones could literally save lives. During the pre-historic times, people lived in a ‘fight or flight’ world. It is either they hunt or be hunted. Adrenaline saved them from danger.
Nowadays, danger is present in the way you eat and in the lifestyle you live. Many become couch potatoes and worry constantly. The stress you experience these days is different but just as deadly.
Therefore, the answer is to stop being a doormat and learn to say “no” more often. I can almost hear your gasps and objections to that statement. I anticipate your reactions: “Wait a minute, you do not know the situation I am in” or “You just do not know how to be unemployed”.
You might be afraid to say “no”, but sometimes it is necessary. For starters, those people who already like you are not going to stop liking you just because you said “no”. Those who behave in a grumpy manner were like that long before you told them so.
Okay, so you mustered all your courage and said “no”, but now you feel guilty for doing so. How do you handle that? You probably feel like you let them down. Guilt is not necessary here; it is a useless emotion.
Stop and think about how you really feel when they ask you to do them a favor. Did you say “yes” then feel resentful about it? If that is the case, now you have a cue that when this situation happens again, say “no” right away. Do not make up excuses that you both know are lies. It will make you guilty for saying something deceitful and wrong. You could tell them that:
If they surprised you with the request and you do not know what to say, ask them to give you some time to think about it and consult your calendar. Many times, they will ask you without warning, hoping you will just say “yes” right away.
Learn to always give yourself a little wiggle room or flexibility. When you do decide to inform them of your negative decision, say it right off the bat, so they understand they cannot talk you into a “yes”. Being definite about your response at the soonest possible time will make them respect you more and cause fewer hurt feelings later.
Somehow, we have been led to believe that it is hurtful to say “no”. You have been taught that you have to be nice to everyone and say “yes” even when you don’t want to. This is especially true for women.
Think of it this way: Is the other person’s time more valuable than your own? Is it necessary to bend over backwards to avoid saying “no” and just take in everything at your expense? Think of the consequences. Eventually, you will find yourself gradually building resentment towards the person making the request. Everything he asks you to do becomes another nail in the coffin!
It is actually better for you to say “no” to everyone involved and save a working relationship, not to mention your own nerves and stress level. Keep in mind that the more often you say “yes” the more often they will ask you for more favors. Therefore, you should only say “yes” if it is something that you truly would like to do for them. You can say “yes” if it is something that you can conveniently fit into your schedule without causing any wear and tear on your nerves.
People are basically good and you would like to help people whenever you can, but so many “yeses” can turn into more than you can handle. You have heard the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Recognize that there are limits to everyone’s time and energy. The disease to please somehow convinces you that you can fit more in each day than anyone else. You will discover this reality when you realize you do not have time to do more than a shoddy job. You will discover this truth when you begin to feel overwhelmed and realize that your commitments are way past your own personal limits. It is simply better for all involved if you just say “no” at the beginning.
By telling them right away, they have a chance to find someone else who can help them.
Remember, they have the right to ask a favor, but you also have the right to say “no”. Do not give up your rights just because you want them to like you. They will respect you more if they see you know how to handle things properly and without overtaxing yourself or stressing others out.
You may have decided that asserting yourself is a good idea, but do not know how to apply it in scenarios involving confrontations. Confrontation involves getting in the other person’s face and not taking into consideration their feelings. You probably would not want to hurt other persons’ feelings, right?
So what do you do? Many people avoid confrontation altogether, which is not always a good idea. Sometimes, it is easier to approach the person as gently as possible, say what you have to say and get it over with.
Approaching the issue with assertion and without anger is always best. This is true even if you feel you are the aggrieved party and need to defend yourself. Many people use this as a last resort when all else failed. It is important to simply lay out the problem, enumerate what you think needs to be resolved, and find a compromise by which everyone gets what they need.
One way to bring this about is not to approach confrontation in a heated manner. This needs to be well thought out in advance. Have a plan. You should have everything you feel and want to say planned out in your mind or written down on paper as reference during the discussion. Be prepared and ready to face the consequences when this confrontation is over. It could be the end of your job or a friendship.
Again, you have the right to assert yourself. This is your life and your workplace. It should not be a place where you dread going to each day. Everyone needs to have personal standards for how they treat themselves and how others treat them. Boundaries have to be set and maintained even in the workplace. We will discuss more about boundaries later on.
Assertiveness, not aggressiveness, is what is essential for you to feel better about yourself and develop better relations with others. It will also help keep the unpleasant or discomfort levels to a minimum, relieve stress, and maybe even move your career forward. Learning to be assertive could even move you into a leadership position one day.
Remember, while assertiveness can help you get what you want out of life, aggression will bring about resignation or involuntary compliance on the part of those around you. We are talking about the best-case scenario. The worst case is that they resent you, resist anything you want from them, and maybe show downright hostility to boot. This is not what you want at all. Aggression simply decreases your chances of getting what you really want.
Aggression will only bring in fear, threats, and hostility because of manipulation, where you force and coerce people to do it your way. You cannot always make someone give in to what you want. As they say, “You might win the battle, but you will lose the war.”
Pushing someone into doing something they do not wish to do may result to grudging compliance at first, but you will not win them over. They may give in just to get you to shut up and go away. You have not won them to your side. With the passive aggressive types, you might even find yourself on the receiving end of an object lesson.
True assertiveness means without aggression, guilt, and fear. It is far more effective in the long run and infinitely more satisfying. Winning others to your way of thinking, the legitimate way, is much more fun!