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Being assertive is good for business

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs


Not everyone knows how to be assertive, that is, being confident and firm without being aggressive. It is especially useful in the working environment, as greater assertiveness can help to get the best out of yourself and your people, yielding returns in all areas of your business.

Assertiveness encourages those who are shy or less vocal to become more involved, and helps the more extrovert or volatile to fine tune their dealings with customers, suppliers and colleagues. An assertive person is a positive, resourceful presence in your business.

Introducing assertive into the workplace

A culture of assertiveness is especially valuable where people work under pressure or have daily contact with the public. Consider adopting the following:

1) Respect, respect, respect: If your employees feel their rights and are respected and their needs are considered, their confidence, motivation and productivity are all improved.

  • They are also more likely to respect the rights of others
  • Prejudiced behaviour or harassment will be challenged calmly and quickly
  • Recognise your employees' personal knowledge of your key business contacts. For example, customers and suppliers probably chat to your receptionist every time they call. Have you asked for her input?

2) Employees have the right to know exactly what is expected of them. Give your staff the equipment, information and authority they need, as well as regular, constructive feedback.

3) People have a right to be consulted about decisions that affect them. Employees who are involved in decision-making are more likely to understand why unpopular decisions have been made, instead of secretly grumbling and being less productive.

4) Workers have the right to make genuine mistakes without blame and put-downs. This is probably a tough one for you to hear, but mistakes sometimes happen due to a lack of proper training or equipment. Blame has a negative impact on morale; people cover their backs or backstab rather than accept responsibility for their actions.

5) People have the responsibility to respect other people's rights, irrespective of seniority. So that would be you and any other managers or supervisors who have employees working under them.

So how do I become more assertive?

Assertive bosses or managers have a positive, open style of communication, neither submissive nor aggressive. They adopt a meeting-as-equals approach to work relations. Assertive behaviour can be easily learned and implemented.

  • State specifically and simply what you feel and want to happen. Start your sentences in the first person ('I feel...') and make brief, to-the-point statements
  • Speak directly, without hinting, beating about the bush, flattering or flirting to get what you want.
  • Stand your ground if you believe in what you are saying. Don't let other people's forcefulness or apparent certainty make you think you must be wrong
  • Stay calm. Anger and aggression can lead to careless. If you need time to pull yourself together, walk away and deal with the issue when you've cooled off
  • Be prepared to say no or 'agree to disagree'. And remember that your employees are also entitled to refuse unreasonable requests

The art of giving feedback

As an employer, giving and receiving feedback are key aspects of assertive behaviour in the workplace. Sessions should frank, open and issues-based. Some rules to follow:

  1. Discuss poor performance in a constructive spirit and in private
  2. When discussing a problem, talk about the facts and avoid personal comments. Your aim should be to correct the fault, not criticise the person. And don't forget to give credit where it's due
  3. Share your interpretation of the facts and encourage the employee to respond. There may have been a misunderstanding and this provides an opportunity for more clarity in future
  4. Listen calmly to your employee and show you understand what is being said. Ask questions when you need to; don't jump to conclusions
  5. Offer and accept sincere apologies, if they are appropriate. Poor performance will not improve if there is bad blood between you and the employee
  6. Summarise what has been said and agreed. Clarify that there are no further obstacles to good performance

The proof is in the pudding

You may think this is all a waster of time, but creating a culture of assertiveness in your company can often solve specific problems and enhance overall business performance. For example:

  • In areas such as credit control, employees become more capable of handling difficult situations without inflaming them
  • Employees become better at protecting the business from unreasonable demands from customers or suppliers
  • Secretaries and clerical staff, who may not have had the opportunity before, start to offer suggestions to improve efficiency in the office
  • If parts of the business suffer from low morale or absenteeism, assertiveness may provide a practical solution

With less friction and fewer bottled-up tensions, a more productive atmosphere can be created and employees can realise more of their potential.

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