MRO Magazine

Assertiveness Without Anger

By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.   

Human Resources

The scene is all too familiar. You're facing conflict, and you believe you're being put in an inappropriate or unfair situation. Your natural inclination? Get angry. Act defensively. Shout. Curse.

The scene is all too familiar. You’re facing conflict, and you believe you’re being put in an inappropriate or unfair situation. Your natural inclination? Get angry. Act defensively. Shout. Curse.

But there’s a better way: assertiveness without anger. By learning a few simple skills you can take command of the situation, articulate your view, and perhaps even present a convincing alternative. At the very least, assertiveness without anger avoids the ill-will trap, and helps maintain positive working relationships once the incident is over.

Skill #1: Accountability. One of the most important assertiveness skills is defining and accepting accountability. When you’re having a difficult conversation, don’t be afraid to articulate the responsibilities of the people involved — and willingly accept the responsibility that belongs to you. For example: “The way I see it, it’s your job to set the direction of this project. It’s my responsibility to first lay out the courses of action.”

Skill #2: Body language. Keep it open and engaging. A calm, relaxed posture, an intent gaze, and the occasional tilt or nod of the head lets the people around you know that you’re listening attentively. For example: Your conversation partner explains why a key deadline has been moved up to next week. Your initial response: a subtle move of the head forward and wide-open eyes.


Skill #3: Courtesy. Courtesy and respect helps maintain good communication and positive feeling. True, it’s difficult to practice this skill when things are tense, but it’s worthwhile. For example: “I know you’re having a rough time over this problem, and I appreciate the chance to talk with you about it.”

Skill #4: Direction. Directive comments, used selectively, make your position very clear. They reinforce your knowledge and stature. A few statements touching on key points can move the conversation toward the route you want. For example: “As much as I’m still trying to sort out these issues, Tom told me very clearly yesterday that your strategy is driving four key suppliers away.”

Skill #5: Empathy. Sure, you have your side in a difficult conversation, and the other party has his side. But demonstrate that you understand his position, that you’re interested in his reasoning, and you’ll get him listening to you. For example: “It must be hard for you to push this idea when so many people disagree.”

Skill #6: Fairness. Before saying or doing anything, it’s critical that you be sure that the people involved have a common and reasonable understanding of the facts. A simple, low-key restatement of the issues is all that’s needed. For example: “Let’s be sure we understand this. You’re asking me to spend the next two weeks reviewing the Smith problem from two years ago.”

Skill #7: Genuineness. If your behaviour and style during a difficult discussion is significantly different than your usual behaviour, you’ll immediately set other people on edge. Maintain consistent, authentic behaviour to keep communication open. For example: If you usually open conversations with comments about the weather, do the same thing here.

Skill #8: Honesty. While you’re trying to maintain a positive, courteous tone to your remarks, it’s equally important that you offer clear and unequivocally accurate information — however difficult this might be. For example: “I know we don’t like to talk about it at this late date, but before John left last year, he made a series of very negative and critical comments to the staff.”

Skill #9: I-emphasis. Accusing a conversation partner or interpreting his motives creates defensiveness. Building the conversation around your problems and feelings, on the other hand, may help your partner better understand the issues involved. For example: “It would be very upsetting to me to take this course of action.”

Skill #10: Judgment. At the end of the day, you’ll probably have to work with the people involved in the current conflict. So it’s your job to determine what will make a workable compromise or consensus — and to form a plan of action that will follow whatever disagreement you’re experiencing. For example: “Now that we know what will happen in the month ahead, let’s turn our attention to how we can best work together to meet our goals.”

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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