Assertiveness can be taught. Sure, some people are blessed with the uncanny ability to ask for what they want and get what they need. For the rest of us, assertiveness is a skill that needs reflection, building and practice. As a training professional, it’s within your power to increase employees’ self-esteem and confidence and improve their ability to speak up.
As a chief complaints officer (aka ombudsperson) in a large organization, part of my job is to coach people on how to complain effectively so that their voices are heard. I offer training to students, frontline staff, managers and senior leaders. Based on this experience, here are five things I think you need to remember about assertiveness training.
1. Reflection Is Key
Training often includes a self-evaluation component. For assertiveness training, I suggest you put this component as close to the beginning of the training session as possible. This activity can be a brief journaling exercise, a small group discussion or even a collage activity, if it fits your program.
Remember, our ability to stand up for ourselves is often related to our previous experience speaking up. The sooner participants recognize where their strengths are and what they need to work on, the more open they will be to learning new techniques.
2. Start Small
Assertiveness is an area where you need to build skills from the ground up. For example, let’s say you are working with a group of newly promoted managers who are not used to speaking up at meetings. Begin with basic meeting etiquette, and review how and when to offer an opinion. From there, you can add more challenging tasks that require more assertiveness (such as asking for a raise).
3. Practice Makes Perfect
Offer the opportunity for participants to try out their assertiveness skills on each other. An example role-playing exercise for a new hire class or onboarding program is what to do if your co-workers refuse to clean the shared kitchen or how to find out when your break time is.
I’m not saying this has to become another mindfulness exercise … well, that’s sort of what I’m saying. Part of confident communication is breath work. Include at least one breathing technique in your assertiveness workshop to help people prepare for speaking up. Practical techniques for calming down can be helpful for people who are nervous about expressing themselves and can be as simple as a reminder to un-scrunch their shoulders and take a few deep breaths in and out.
5. Encourage Each Other
Assertiveness is a skill that needs to be built from within, which doesn’t mean that training participants couldn’t benefit from one another’s support. If appropriate, you may want to use a buddy system so that participants can continue to cheer each other’s assertive success (and help reframe challenging situations) after the workshop is over.
Learning how to stand up for oneself and be more assertive is a valuable skill for the workplace. People who can complain effectively are better able to navigate the world around them. They are more skilled at negotiating with suppliers, managing difficult clients and navigating workplace situations. Assertiveness training will pay off in terms of both individual leadership development and organizational effectiveness.