I think that being assertive about what I want and how I feel about things at work has always been really hard for me. I think of myself as a “people pleaser.” It’s hard to say no and our work motto is “go above and beyond.” So at what point do you set some rules?
Being assertive has a bad connotation at times. Often people associate it with being bossy or a “no” person. What good, quality assertiveness actually translates into is not letting people walk all over you. I’ve heard and been a part of various conversations with professionals of all ages, levels and fields who discuss frustrations with their job. There are a lot of commonalities in these discussions including how to express yourself without causing issues. I’ve realized that some people are much better at this than others. For me, confrontation can be scary, especially depending on who it involves, but the main precedent is setting boundaries from the beginning. I try to push myself to be better at understanding what is and isn’t within reason. And here are 5 things I am using to help establish it:
1. Understand Your Role
When you start a new job, you always want to be helpful, prove that you are dedicated and pave the way for a successful career. While you hope most people will be decent and welcome you in, there are always people who take advantage of that. It’s important to be a helpful team member, but if you’re in accounting, you shouldn’t be doing paperwork for HR. Make it clear that you will be helpful within reason.
2. Skill Set vs Boundaries
You’re really good at stuff. Lots of stuff actually. It seems like there are tons of people who need help which you can provide, after you do those other things 4 other people needed help with. It is important to be a team player. If someone is having a near melt down and you have stuff that isn’t due for a few days, of course be a decent human being about it. After all, team work is how things get done. However, don’t let your ability to do lots of things, or even a willingness to try lots of things make you the office pushover. One of my life mottos is “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” (You’d be surprised how many things that applies to.)
3. Say No
It’s okay. You can do this. People will respect you for it. Fellow employees and co-workers need to know they can come to you, but they shouldn’t be dumping things on you. By saying no you are putting yourself and the job you were hired for first. You should be doing well at your job and you can’t advance if you barely finish your work and meet your goals because you’re constantly working on someone else’s. So just say no, kids. They taught us that one early on.
Make the effort to prioritize your own work and don’t let other people interfere with that — no matter how much they whine, plead or insist. This will help you decide when you can really jump in. This can be circumstantial — if something comes up that isn’t your direct responsibility but it needs immediate attention from you and a few other people, well technically it’s jumped up your priorities list. But if you have client or manager waiting for a project and another co-worker comes to you because s/he wasn’t able to meet his or her deadline, well it’s not your job to finish it. These situations have always been hard for me because I don’t like to see people stressed or overwhelmed. And yes, I was totally the kid who handed over her lunch willingly in grade school because some kid forgot theirs or just didn’t like what they had. But the here-take-my-sandwich approach to life isn’t going to get you anywhere. It’s just going to leave you hungry while everyone else not only full, but has what they want.
5. Suck It Up and Speak Up
That’s the hardest part. Sucking it up and actually saying no or not doing something for someone. I recently was battling with this. Do I do something I wasn’t responsible for? Do I just fix it or make an effort to make the person who made the error fix it? Well, while the latter was the intention I ended up just doing it in interest of time and also because it was unfairly not being solved for the client. I was frustrated with myself a bit here because I wanted to make a point that I will not just correct everything that goes wrong because the same person continually chooses not to pay attention to the details knowing I will just fix it. Because then the idea is established that everything seems to go fine and no issues happen and the initial approach to this issue was fine. No, it’s not fine. It’s caused me major stress in my week. So I’ve resolved that I need to work on being much more vocal from the get go. It’s not just saying no that makes you assertive. It’s addressing an issue or correcting a matter that may make you feel uncomfortable, which is something that is hard for me and other people I know. It’s just so much easier to gossip about what made you mad to someone else but real assertive people talk to the person directly so they don’t have to deal with it again.