Imagine this. You are on a magnificent beach in Hawaii, having flown 8,455 kilometres for one of your dearest friend’s wedding. The water is crystal turquoise in colour on a backdrop of majestic palm trees with a few clouds in the sky – picture perfect - just like in the movies. It is ten minutes until the bride is due to arrive. It is an absolutely idyllic setting. Imagine the horror when you look up at the lovely wedding arch only to see two (2) gentlemen sitting right in front of the “centre stage” - perched about 10 metres in front of it – relaxing on their beach chairs doing crossword puzzles dressed in nothing but their bathing suits.
This is a true and recent story (from last week in fact). We all piled off the bus at Waimanalo Beach after having driven 45 minutes from Waikiki, just in time for the ceremony (the chartered bus was almost an hour late – that’s another story). Fortunately the beautiful bride was also ‘fashionably’ late…
Within a nanosecond of arriving I asked both the photographer and wedding planner what they planned on doing about asking the gentlemen to move. Their responses were less than satisfactory to my liking, so I winked at my husband (Dan) as he knew what I was thinking, and more importantly, what I needed to do.
Another friend and I casually wandered over to them, whilst on the way agreeing that I would do the talking and she would be my back up support. I cannot remember how the exact words went, but it was something along the lines of:
- Introduced ourselves, stating that we were from “down under” and here (in paradise!) for our dear friend’s wedding
- The wedding planner had put up the arch in a spot which was clearly in line of sight where they were sitting (it was right behind them and they had no idea it was there)
- I apologised for this as they had no doubt been there all day and it was “our” fault that the arch it was in that spot (“our” as in ‘the wedding party collective’)
- Despite them having great tans which would certainly make for a great photo, I was going to ask them a question but they in no way should feel obligated to say “yes” (i.e. could they pretty please move out of the line of sight of the arch!?)
The 20 plus wedding party were looking on and Dan tells me they weren't expecting a good response. However the resolution was quite the opposite, as both Dan and I knew would be the case. They were unequivocally pleasant about the situation and moved within minutes, just in time for the bride to arrive.
What is assertiveness?
Being assertive is a learned behaviour, a communication and thinking style. In a nutshell it is about being able to express yourself in an open manner than respects others needs along with your own. It requires active listening, a calm approach, and open and honest communication.
It is not the same as being aggressive. There are stark differences in the words used, body language, the tone of your voice and last but not least, your attitude.
Being assertive also doesn't mean that you will get what you want out of a situation. Being assertive means you recognise that you will often need to negotiate to come to a mutually satisfactory comprise.
You can turn it on. You can choose to be assertive, but don’t always have to be.
Lack of assertiveness is very common, particularly when people feel they will be judged if they speak up and express what they really feel and think.
I know I can be assertive. I also know that when I choose to be assertive, I am very good at it, both in my career and life more broadly. When the need arose last Wednesday, I did what I had to do and saved my gorgeous friend’s wedding photos by doing what most people wouldn’t dream about. And because I am well practiced at it having built up my skill over the years, I was very calm and got a wonderful resolution.
How can you be more assertive?
Think about it this way - you were born assertive as a baby – you cried when you wanted something. So what has changed since then in the way that you communicate with others – both in your career and life more generally?
- Have you been taught over the years (particularly as a child) not to express your emotions, needs and opinions?
- Do you have negative self-statements and think it is uncaring, rude and selfish to say want you want, think and need?
- Do you feel like you don’t have the communication skills (either verbal or non-verbal) to be assertive?
- Does being assertive make you so stressed and anxious that you’d rather avoid it at all costs?
- Are you not sure how to act in different situations, sometimes mistaking non-assertiveness for politeness?
I’m here to tell you that assertiveness is a learned behaviour and a skill which can be developed. Being more self-aware is the initial first step in becoming more assertive in your career and life, followed by lots of practice.
“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” – Dr Phil
I encourage you to read my testimonials on www.careerinsidetrack.com to see how I have practically helped others discover the height of their strengths, overcome self-doubt and build a career that they are passionate about.
Call me to start the journey of becoming more assertive in your career today and get a competitive edge!