CommunicationIT Best Practices

The Problem of Being Unassertive at Work

You do not want to make a bad impression on people, so you just try to go with the flow. But if you go too far with the flow, you end up at the bottom of a river. Keep out of the river by developing some basic self-assertiveness. In a guest post at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, Andy Kaufman shares a few basic tips and reasons to find your life preserver.

Clear Intentions Take You Far

In the first case, Kaufman thinks it might be possible that lack of assertiveness could be associated with general apathy for your job. If your job is paying well enough that you stick around but it brings no excitement, it could be putting a damper on your whole personality. That does not necessarily mean you should rush out to find a new job though (gotta pay the bills). Rather, Kaufman recommends just trying new things on the side. He started speaking at conferences and got so much excitement from it that it ultimately became his new career.

If none of this is the case though, then you are genuinely unassertive, and you can work on that too. Begin by deciding if that lack of assertiveness is an active problem. For instance, if colleagues have actually told you that you are too passive, or that you do not take the initiative often enough, then that is a concern. Being quiet too often is actually seen—fairly or not—as a sign of incompetence:

Harvard’s Teresa Amabile published a study called “Brilliant But Cruel.” Her research found that if someone is too nice, we assume they must be less competent. Men low in the personality trait agreeableness make as much as USD 10,000 a year more than men high in agreeableness. Somehow rude people have better credit scores.

But Kaufman (and I) does not recommend you go out and become a jerk either. Rather, the roundabout point is that assertive people make their intentions clear, for better or worse. Unassertive people might never make their intentions clear, and thus maybe never get ahead either. So do not be afraid to speak up. After all, if you are already known for being quiet and not speaking up, how could you possibly come across as a forceful jerk on the day that you finally do assert yourself?

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