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How to keep being assertive when others respond aggressively…

Dear H2

I've made a promise to myself that I will improve my assertiveness skills at work. My 'natural' style of communication is/was fairly passive - I would avoid confrontation by keeping out of difficult discussions and usually by agreeing to what others want. However, I found that this wasn't doing me any favours, as I was losing respect and credibility wiht my colleagues, and I often found myself agreeing to things that compromised my professional principles.

The difficulty I am having now is that my new approach doesn't seem to be going down very well with the people who I used to simply agree with. In fact, they have become even more aggressive in their style with me, and I'm finding it extremely stressful keeping up what feels now like just a pretence! Can you offer any suggestions so that I don't just give up and go back to my 'quiet life'?!



Dear C

First of all, we think you've definitely made a useful promise to yourself - learning to be more assertive at work will help to improve the quality of your communication with others in so many ways, and in so many situations. The difficulties you are now facing in terms of the negative reactions of others are not at all uncommon - in fact they are to be expected. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and imagine how it might feel to have a colleague who is usually a push-over, suddenly, without warning, sticking up for their own point of view!

We suggest that you take some time to consider your desired changes again, and to develop a strategy for ensuring that they are successfully turned into reality. This will involve identifying the situations in which you'd like to increase your assertiveness, and the people that this will affect. Then anticipate their likey responses (or note their actual responses!) and work out a way of trying to overcome these, whilst maintaining positive working relationships.

A couple of 'tactics' that may help to deal with the negative responses of others are: to keep repeating the importance of the subject to you and to others, and to acknowledge their comments but to continue with your own point. For example: “Yes, I know it is unusual but…”

If the other person is worked up or is raising their voice, try speaking softer and slower yourself. If that doesn't work, tell them what they are saying is important and you don't want to miss anything. You could also start taking notes - they will have to slow down so you can get it down on paper! Most importantly, you should keep up your assertive responses unless you are actually being verbally/physically abused. In which case, tell them clearly that you cannot continue the conversation until they stop aggressing you. You may want to consider a "time out" or cooling off period, then come back together for further discussion.

Lots of luck!

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