How to Get Things Done without Being Aggressive (Part 1)


Have you ever watched a friend, co-worker, or even a boss who is able to navigate a challenging situation with ease and professionalism, no matter what the politics are or who the difficult personalities involved are? This person has a “Teflon” ability to deflect anger and frustration in the problem-solving process and doesn’t settle for an outcome that would sacrifice the self-respect, their own clout, or the success of the goal.

Getting things done when other people are involved, a.k.a., leading a team or requesting things from colleagues who do not report to you, is a reoccurring topic in my executive coaching practice; especially as matrix organizations are getting flatter and more global and the old hierarchical structures are collapsing.

This newsletter is part one of a series of three in which I will address three major skills needed to master the art of leading or getting things done without aggression. In this first newsletter, I address the first skill needed: assertiveness. In the months to follow I will address the other two skills: creativity and the ability to be present.

First of all, assertiveness, just like most skills, is learnable. In the business context assertiveness is considered a core competency and important communication skill. I consider it essential in personal, as well as business, situations because being assertive is a constructive way to deal with difficult people, achieve your goals, and solve a problem. Until recently, many male-dominated environments had little room for assertive women. Assertive women were seen as b____ with high heels, while men were just doing their job. But things are changing rapidly.

It is easy to confuse assertiveness with aggression, but they are not the same. The yelling, confrontational person who is having a temper tantrum with the “my way or the highway” attitude is not being assertive, just aggressive, offensive, and ineffective.

Assertive people tend to look for create win-win scenarios. They understand the value of clearly and calmly making their desires and beliefs known. They don’t have an ego explosion if their solution is not the one that comes out on top. Confident and assured, these people approach situations with a healthy dose of objectivity, and as a result, are able to communicate clearly and work through challenges in a low-stress and self-honoring way without all of the drama.

Here are a handful of tips that may help you be more assertive without turning into an offensive, ineffective jerk.

  1. Allow yourself to feel anger. One of the biggest obstacles to assertive communication is the belief that feeling anger is bad and expressing it shows that you are an aggressive and mean person. Remember, anger is a normal and natural emotion. It isn’t a bad emotion, and people aren’t bad for feeling angry. However, how you express your anger makes all the difference. Stay away from pointing the finger, making “you” statements or labeling people. Stay with the facts and make statements like: “I am angry because…”.
  2. State your case in a straightforward way that does not deprecate the other person in any way. Acknowledge the perspectives and feelings of others. Back up your ideas with factual reasoning, rather than emotions. Make others feel that their ideas and concerns are valued. Be open and creative in coming up with other solutions.
  3. Listen and respond to others in a proactive way that shows that you identify, acknowledge, and respect their feelings and where they’re coming from. Let them know that the current interaction you are having is meant to grow your relationship in a mature, level-headed manner that you value and want to cultivate. Validating feelings, however, doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with them.
  4. Be collaborative and work together. Be constructive and collaborative and look for ways to achieve a situation where both of you are happy (or at least content).
  5. Do not let problems linger and fester. Approach your friends and co-workers in ways that everyone feels valued and heard.

Learning how to be more assertive, basically sticking up for yourself without being a total jerk, will earn you the respect among co-workers and friends that you deserve. You will also feel less stress and more confident about yourself and your interactions with others. This high road that assertive people take is where the best outcomes happen.

Bottom line: by training yourself to be assertive and look for the win-win opportunities in challenging situations, you’ll come out feeling like a winner, and so will everyone else.

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