Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter and ask you this: Do you say ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no’? If you’re a team leader or running your own business, you simply cannot afford to be guilty of this entrepreneurial ‘sin’, not with clients, not with co-workers, not with your employees.
Assertiveness is not something you can gloss over. And here’s why. Over-extending yourself or bending backwards to accommodate unreasonable demands will ultimately compromise your team’s targets, business goals and balance sheet. So regardless of how talented or creative you are or how astute your business sense is, you should also be able to assert yourself if you want to stay on track.
But do not mistake assertiveness for aggression. Being assertive means being outspoken, knowing when to put your foot down and standing your ground. It helps a great deal when politely turning down overbearing customers, managing business partners who are not pulling their weight, being tough on vendors who don’t deliver as promised and refusing requests from employees. And – here’s the tough part – you have to do all this without damaging relationships. If you have a sense of humour, well, that’s half the battle won while, say, refusing to lower rates or dealing with irrational demands from customers or pushy employees.
People who have a problem saying ‘no’ are usually people-pleasers with low self-esteem. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, feel secure in their actions and are willing to take the risk of confrontation. In fact, one of the greatest leadership skills that successful entrepreneurs have is the ability to be assertive in a way that shows strength and confidence without bringing other people down. Are you ready to walk the tightrope between getting things done while also nurturing relationships? No one said it was easy, especially since you’re probably dealing with various types of people and their numerous idiosyncrasies.
If you feel you need to cultivate this trait, here are a few pointers.
1. Determine Whether You’re A People Pleaser
Remember, ‘no’ is not a dirty word. We live in a culture where saying ‘no’ is impolite. When we say ‘no’, we feel guilty and, as a result, end up making commitments that are difficult to keep. Ask yourself the following questions if you have a problem saying ‘no’.
> Do I really want this or am I pleasing someone else?
> What are the long-term consequences of saying ‘yes’?
> Am I saying ‘yes’ only because I am flattered by the request?
> Am I contractually obliged to do this?
> If I do it, will I enjoy it?
> Do I need more information before I make my decision?
2. Define Your Boundaries
When you back down but don’t really want to, you probably believe you’re being nice and that people will like you more. This is a myth. Your behaviour teaches people whether to treat you badly or with respect. Every time someone crosses the line and you don’t push back, you’re telling them it’s ‘all right to walk all over you.
Don’t dismiss uncomfortable feelings and give in to unreasonable requests that compromise your time and productivity. Assertive entrepreneurs always know what is acceptable to them and what isn’t.
3. Keep Your Eye On Your Goals
The single, most important trait of a successful entrepreneur is self-belief, which comes from knowing what you want. To take your business to the next level, you have to keep you’re eye firmly on your goals. Being able to say ‘no’ and being aware of your limitations is a pre-requisite to start moving in that direction. A successful leader is focused on the big picture, and if someone makes a request that is just not feasible, he has no qualms about turning them down.
4. Replace Passive Beliefs With Healthy Ones
Whether subconscious or not, our self-beliefs and self-talk ultimately influences our behaviour. Thus, a passive person assumes, ‘I need to be liked by everyone and I must avoid conflict at any cost.’ Or ‘my needs should never come first. That would be selfish.’ At the other extreme, an aggressive person believes, ‘People should do what I believe is right.’ Or ‘people will see you as powerful only if you strongly express yourself.’ An individual with a healthy sense of self worth and who is assertive believes, ‘I am responsible for what happens to me.’ Or ‘I am likeable and worthwhile. People respond positively towards me.’ Or ‘everyone deserves to be treated with respect.’
If you’re learning to become assertive, you’re going to surprise a lot of people. If you’re a, people-pleaser, expect to upset a few people, at first. It’s all about making them unlearn their old expectations of you and teaching them to treat you with respect. Turning aggressiveness into assertiveness is easier. People will respond with enthusiasm along with a little surprise on seeing the new and improved you. Your diplomatic and polite stance will win hearts and perhaps even mend a few broken fences!
Mukti Shah is a Clinical Psychologist, Corporate Consultant and an accredited Entrepreneurial Motivation Trainer.
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