Assertiveness. This is the goal of communicators who want to get their point across clearly, effectively, and confidently. It is standing up for your own rights, for what you want and believe in, without stepping on the rights of other people. It is communicating without putting others down, which is aggressive behavior. And certainly, it is not about giving in without a just fight, which is submissive behavior. Assertiveness gets the job done because we are able to communicate as equals. We are able to practice rational and professional behavior. And, we are to communicate with respect upwards, downwards, and horizontally.
I once encountered a beautiful quote from Maya Angelou about respect. And I believe, the very quotation is applicable to why we should practice assertiveness.
“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
– Maya Angelou
That’s the power of assertiveness. That’s the power of genuine respect, which is part of assertiveness. It gets the job done. It builds trust. It builds relationships. Aggressiveness and submissiveness, of course…does the opposite. And, did you know that the Mayo Clinic even says, in a study, that assertiveness is good for the health? Apparently it is — and it makes sense. After all, failing to express yourself causes negative stress, which is ultimately bad for one’s health.
There is, as I would teach, one more behavior that is best avoided. It is submissive-aggressive behavior, also known as the passive-aggressive communication style.
Submissive-aggressiveness is, in short, harboring feelings about someone and giving that person the needed feedback. Symptoms: aloofness, sarcasm, backbiting, gossiping, or talking behind someone’s back.
Or my latest favorite example: alluding to that someone through social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook. It’s funny to observe that the more channels we have to communicate with each other, the more channels we find for non-assertive behavior.
Sometimes, the intention practice is simply to vent. Most of the time, the submissive-aggressive person intends to be harmless, especially if the object of such a shout out is able to read it. At times, it is the person’s way of giving a subtle hint.
There are four possible outcomes here.
- First, come on. Our FB friends are not blind. They’re not deaf. And certainly, they are not stupid. People can always read between the lines.
- Second, the person is dense. He will not even realize that it is he you are complaining about. And what happens to your complaint? Nada. Nothing.
- Third, the person reads it and does take offense. After all, who wouldn’t be angry about a shout out pertaining to a particular individual — and broadcast to a thousand friends? Again, people can ready between the lines.
- The fourth, and I believe the worst: another person feels that it is he or she you are alluding to but aren’t. The person feels bad. And, there goes your friendship with him or her.
Sample shoutouts could simply be a complaint that is made to appear that the person is talking to himself but really is shouting it out to the world for everyone to hear. Or, it could be disguised as a quote or — que horror — a biblical passage that is actually pertaining to someone. Or it could be very specific as in:
- “I’ve never felt so unhappy with my job!”
- “I’ve never felt so unappreciated by my staff!”
- Blessed are the poor in spirit… (Yikes!)
The truth is, a lot of professionals abroad have gotten terminated for unprofessional shout outs. We don’t want to be the next, do we? And the truth is, all a manager needs to do is gather all your past and present shout outs and voila — a whole story is completed. So ok, he’s not your friend. But a manager has his own ways of seeing your wall even if he is not your friend.
Some even use submissive aggressive behavior not just to vent and complain, but also to threaten a company by making it appear that they are planning to quit. Be careful about this one, management might just open the door and make it easier for you. If your objective is to simply ask for a raise, there are much better, much professional ways of doing so. If you feel you really deserve one, ask for it.
Well, the objective of this post, this “learning on the job” is not to scare anyone. It is simply to share what I have been teaching — and hopefully, living. My humble point is, when we encounter problems and challenges, which are a given, there are much better ways to get the point across.
So ultimately, it goes back to — ASSERTIVENESS!
What are the tips then to be assertive? Let’s talk positive.
- Ditch the submissive-aggressive shoutouts. Communicate directly, whether if it’s face-to-face or through a direct e-mail or letter (in case you still want to avoid a one-on-one). Save your fingers from the meta-carpal syndrome.
- Give assertive feedback. Prepare your facts and stick to the facts. More than complaining or ranting about the problem, sit down with the person involved and together, look for a solution.
- Before you complain, give a person a chance to explain. Don’t rant based on a one-sided story.
- If you suspect that you are the subject of someone’s submissive-aggressive shoutout, suspend your judgment first. For all you know, the shoutout is not about you.
- If you need to give negative feedback to a person, remember the rule: criticize in private, praise in public. The assertive person communicates to solve problems, not to humiliate others. And if you do plan to criticize in private, the person deserves the courtesy of being told through the right channel. Most likely, its face-t0-face.
- You can be honest without stepping on someone’s self esteem.
- Do unto others what you want them to do unto you.
Respect is the bedrock of any relationship, whether personal or professional. It is not a vague concept that we post on Facebook, but it is something we practice daily and show through our actions. Being the better person is not always a guarantee that things will work out fine, because trust me, there are people who will just want to pull you down. But in the end, if we want to change the world, we begin by changing ourselves, trusting that all our good actions, in the long run, will make our world a much better place to be in.