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  • Melissa Sims

Assertive Leadership

Continuing our topic from the last update, assertive communication is key to effective leadership.


I recently came across a few articles that completely contradicted one another, and both were from pretty well-respected publications. The subject matter was change management via “muscling” or “smuggling change.” Muscling change alludes to the idea that you must strong-arm or force change in order for it to happen, which can obviously be a rough technique when approaching leadership mindfully. The other idea was to smuggle change, or to basically make changes quietly, so that when there is resistance to the idea of the change, it’s far too late to revert back.



One of the articles - from a mindful publication - was stating that neither of these techniques work. Change must be managed with the team as a whole, with mindful communication and buy-in from the majority. The other article, from a business magazine, was adamant that muscling change was the only way to produce effective change in an organization. I am sure you can guess which article I gravitated to! It's amazing that there is such a dichotomy in the way we lead.


I think what this really boils down to is, once again, mindful communication. In our last update, I spoke to the importance of assertiveness, a very effective form of communication, and as promised, I wanted to go further into this and provide some tips on how to improve your assertiveness skills. I think it is most important to first identify which kind of leader you actually are, and to be 100% honest with yourself. If you watched the video in that update, you probably know the difference between Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive. What you may not know yet, is which style you tend to turn to most. Here is a fun little quiz you can take to see how assertive you are. Don’t hang your hat on these results, but it might give you an idea of where you land on the communication styles. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/tests/personality/assertiveness-test


I don’t think you actually need a quiz, however. I believe most of you will know your style, and likely know where you need to improve. So how can we become more assertive?


Showing your capacity to remain calm, be open, and resolve conflict is going to be the most effective strategy.


Do you know your boundaries? Set them.


What you find acceptable may not be clear to everyone, even to yourself. Make sure you are clear and concise with your time and limits. This will have everyone on the same page as to the nature of your relationship and what is acceptable in terms of behavior. For example, you have a meeting with a team supervisor. You make it clear that this is a meeting for a set amount of time, and that it is not a gossip session, it is strictly to achieve a certain goal, which is predefined.

Learn to Say NO.

This is one of the hardest things for most of us, but if you ask anyone that doesn’t have a problem saying no, they will tell you how life-changing it can be. This is even harder to do when you lack assertiveness. Don’t give immediate answers if it is something that you really don’t want to do. Take a look at your calendar. Is there time for it? Does it align with your core values? Is it something that you are willing to do if there is time? If there isn’t time for it, are you willing to remove something from your schedule to be able to fit it in? Is it something that will bring you happiness, joy, contentment, etc.? It won’t be easy right away, but you can improve this with practice.

Remember to use “I” statements

Approaching a conversation or situation with the idea that the best outcome is going to be one where both parties leave satisfied, is a great strategy to start with. The other party is not your enemy. Saying things like “you always make me” or “you never help me” can not only sound aggressive, but it can put the other party on the defensive. Using I statements helps you improve your assertiveness - because assertiveness is where you are able to express yourself without putting the other person down.

You can try phrases like: I feel this is the right approach to meet our deadline, and I am open to hearing your input as well. OR I hear your ideas, but I feel we need to consider other options if you’d be willing to listen to mine.

Use Compassionate Communication

Expressing yourself using mindfulness and compassion is crucial for improving your assertiveness. This allows you to remain approachable. Be clear about what is and isn’t working. Without such clarity, you will sound like you are complaining or appear not to know what you want.

Read the Room.

It’s important to be able to read the room, understand the situation and context in which you find yourself. If you are surrounded by very passive people, you may need to adjust your delivery. The same goes for being around aggressive people. You must pitch your assertiveness according to the audience and context. Is your message going to be received well? Emotional intelligence will factor into this, as you will need to be able to understand how others operate.

Have a Plan and Stick To It. There should always be a goal to the conversation. Are you trying to get someone to understand something? Are you presenting an idea or project? If you are having trouble being assertive, why are you not speaking up when you should? Why are you holding back? Are there particular situations when you are not coming forward? This is a great time for self-reflection. If you feel like you can’t speak up, dig down into why. There can be fear, impostor syndrome, etc.

Be Authentic. It’s common to feel inauthentic or even in foreign territory when trying to improve your assertiveness, but in reality, you are growing. You can still be yourself, while improving on your empathy and openness. Remember that assertiveness should never be aggressive. The name of the game is remaining calm and in control of your emotions while trying to find a solution that meets both sets of needs.

Have a mindful week!


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