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Assertiveness: Choosing The Right Battles

If you need help getting something done, you have a few options: you can request it, you can demand it, or you can simply sit back and hope that it happens. The first behavior is an example of assertion, or standing up for your own rights without violating the rights of others. The second is aggression; you are standing up for your rights, but violating another's right to voluntary action. The third choice is submission; a failure to stand up for your own rights. Certainly you recognize all of these behaviors, in your colleagues if not in yourself. And, you probably recognize assertive behavior as the most effective route. Although they may accomplish the intended ends, the alternatives imperil our own rights or those of others, creating conflict and building mistrust within relationships. One of the keys to effectiveness is learning how to communicate thoughts and feelings without jeopardizing yourself or others, an ability which elevates both morale and productivity in the workplace. Being assertive, however, is not always easy.

Like any other expression of emotion, being assertive involves risk-taking, since feelings handled inappropriately in the workplace are a well-known source of anger or conflict. However, letting a fear of conflict inhibit expression only increases stress and anxiety. Until one is comfortable with, and proficient in, expressing themselves and their feelings in a productive manner, it is difficult to learn which battles to fight. In a conscious effort to avoid confrontation, they may end up giving ground on issues of paramount importance or taking an aggressive stand on a trivial issue. The first step on the road to assertive action is to overcome your fear of risk-taking by examining your situation as objectively as possible. Remember the following:

  • You control your feelings and by being assertive you can change the situation that is creating a problem
  • Ask yourself what is being lost, and how difficult it will be to regain if you avoid a situation instead of confronting it.
  • Learn to be rational: Ask yourself, "do I know all the facts? Am I overreacting? Am I worrying about nothing? Am I the cause of the conflict?
  • Delay causes damage! The longer you avoid meeting a situation head-on and resolving issues, the greater the damage that can be done. Pent up resentment eventually leads to explosions at those around you, or to implosions in the form of a negative self-image or tension-related physical ailments.

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