It’s OK to be Assertive at Work

I am a new supervisor really struggling with what seems like a simple problem. How do I suggest assertiveness training to other new managers without coming across as demeaning? I want to make it part of annual reviews, but am not sure this is the best approach.


-My Tongue Is Tied, product administrator, services, Seal Beach, California


Dear Tongue Is Tied:


Have you ever gone to lunch and finished the workday, only to go home and realize that you have a giant hunk of spinach wedged between your two front teeth? None of us would prefer to go the whole day without knowing the spinach is there-we would want someone to be brave enough to tell us. Feedback is just like having spinach in your teeth. It may be uncomfortable to learn, but we all want to know about it.


Try these tips to make the suggestion in a way that is assertive yet not demeaning:


Be direct and sincere. Let the employee know that when you address an issue, it is for everyone’s best interest. If employees know that you are interested in their growth and development, then your feedback will not come across as demeaning. Here is an example of good feedback: “You did a really nice job organizing the logistics of the new-hire orientation and welcoming everyone to the team. In one-on-one meetings, I’d like to see you be more assertive about expectations. I’m confident that by completing this assertiveness skills training, you’ll be an even more effective manager.”


Give feedback daily. Many managers communicate only when there is a problem, so employees tend to view feedback in a negative light. Often, we associate feedback with an annual review. Feedback should be day to day, and it doesn’t have to be formal. Contrary to the norm, you should not wait until the annual review to address issues. Routinely give employees specific tips to improve. For example, after a meeting, offer two instances in which the employee could have been more assertive, and provide exact examples of what could have been said.


Focus on results. Let employees know what they will get out of the training. “I’ve noticed your hesitancy in offering suggestions in meetings the last few weeks. Assertiveness training will help you lead a more productive and communicative team and in turn, be a better manager. Would you like to get started with training next week?”


Remember the spinach. Thinking of the spinach example reinforces the point: Employees and managers alike want to know about their performance-the good, the bad and the ugly. Awareness is the only way for employees to grow and develop. Be assertive, and make regular feedback a part of your team’s culture.


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In the News
February 15, 2015