[Opinion] The Down-Sides of Assertiveness in the Workplace

When there is a confrontation at work, the competency type we most envision others being in (and ourselves) is that of the assertive type.

People who demonstrate assertiveness advocate for what they want, look out for other people on the team, and are aware, but are not bound by, the restrictions of the organization. They are perceived as honest brokers, and sharp communicators who can get what they want, when they want it, how they want it, while also recognizing the reactions and responses of other people.

Assertiveness in response to conflicts at work is viewed as a net plus overall (there’s even assertiveness training on the market), in the face of the other types we’ve explored for the competency model. This type is celebrated and most written business advice is provided for the perspective and growth of the assertive type rather than the other types.

Of course, there are three down-sides to this way of thinking:

  • People are rarely assertive all the time, whether in their daily communication or in their approach to workplace conflicts and issues
  • People who communicate indirectly are sometimes not perceived by direct communicators as being assertive, ever though they really are—but just from behind the scenes.
  • People who demonstrate assertiveness sometimes give the impression of being bullies, manipulative, or even being controlling, to other competency types who would prefer to either avoid conflict entirely, or to accommodate it and move on.

Healthy, positive assertiveness in the workplace is a tactic, not a strategy, for overcoming workplace conflicts and can be dynamite when used sparingly. However, in the hard charging, profit driven world of business, a lack of assertiveness is interpreted by others as being weakness.

In the conflict competency model of the 21st century, assertiveness will matter both more and less than it did before.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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