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Are you Blunt or Bluff?

We’ve all met aggressive people. They’re the ones who cut to the chase, bluntly stating their agenda almost to the point of intimidation until their own personal goals are met. Too many people believe that forceful and aggressive behavior is a necessary ingredient for financial success. The most successful and effective leaders that I have met have all had a softer approach. While they were not pushovers, they had the confidence and self-esteem to be open and honest, yet assertive, in communicating their and their organization’s needs.

What happens when a business deal is conducted between two aggressive people? Surely an enormous waste of energy is expended as each promotes an agenda in a tense atmosphere. How about the passive type? They prefer not to express their opinions, ideas, and feelings because they fear it may rock the boat. Passive people usually avoid saying no in order to be nice. They think the only alternative to being nice is to be mean or selfish.

Aggressive people enjoy being around passive people, because passives allow them to do their own thing in their own time in their own way. Passive people take the path of least resistance. If someone takes advantage of them, they let it go. They have a hard time with confrontation because they hate how it makes them feel. They hate the physiological changes that come with a tense situation, such as second-guessing themselves or losing their cool.

Then there is a third type of person—the passive-aggressive person. Passive-aggressive people are actually pretty aggressive on the inside, but they’re very non-confrontational about it. They don’t directly express their feelings, but they show how they feel through what they do. And they’re no easier to deal with than people who are directly aggressive.

How does a person avoid extremes in behavior and learn to clearly state his objective in a healthy, honest, and focused way, without hurting another’s feelings or forcefully ruining a business deal?

The answer is assertiveness. “Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.” Clearly understand and believe in your own objectives so that you can be firm and outspoken in your ideas and positions. Assertiveness means being able to state your needs without feeling intimidated. It is the ability to stand up for yourself and to express how you feel when necessary.

Assertive people have some of the following characteristics:

  • They feel free to express feelings, thoughts, and desires without feeling self-conscious.

  • They are willing to compromise with others, rather than always wanting it their way.

  • They have a good self-esteem and are able to ask for what they want.

  • They are able to say no to people without feeling guilty about it; they know their rights.

  • They can choose how to live their life without feeling guilty about it.

  • They are able to take risks when they feel they need to.

Assertive leaders are effective at the following:

  • They are very clear and forthright about their organization’s vision, mission, and goals.

  • They are excellent communicators and great listeners.

  • They are decisive and communicate their decisions.

  • They hire great people, sometimes even better than themselves, and they delegate effectively.

  • They hold themselves and their people accountable for results.

  • They admit to mistakes and apologize when necessary.

  • They love to learn and always add to their knowledge base.

Assertiveness is expressed by the word I, while the aggressive form tends to focus on the other person and is thus expressed as you. “Please allow me to share my concern” or “Let me tell you what’s important to me” are expressions of assertiveness. Clearly expressing our needs in a non-confrontational manner while keeping the conversation focused on “I” as much as possible is almost a guarantee that others will be receptive to discussing the issue at hand.

I Statement You Statement

I feel that… You seem…

I’m concerned about… You are messing up…

It’s not working out… It’s your fault…

I am interested to hear why you think… Your point of view is irrelevant.

By assertively using the word I, you are saying, “I care enough to give you feedback.” This is the most effective way to review the status of projects or tasks that the person is working on. If we are too intimidated or insecure to give feedback to others, how will they ever know our thoughts?

One of the best ways to develop assertive traits in yourself is to observe them in others. Look at someone you admire. Most of the time you admire someone because that person has some kind of trait that you’re lacking in your own life, a trait you wish you had, like assertiveness or confidence. Pay attention to how they do things, watch their body language, and take notes.

Here are some tips to help you along:

  • Keep your words straight and to the point; don’t complicate it.

  • Be polite but firm with the other person.

  • Let everything the other person says wash over you and remain calm.

  • Look the other person in the eye, but don’t stare at him.

  • Don’t apologize if it’s not necessary.

One last note of caution: Even though assertiveness is a wonderful skill to use in many situations, you still need to know when to pick your battles. Sometimes it’s wiser to just let things wash over you. Leaders know when to hold and when to fold. Be careful in not needing to have the last word—that is aggressiveness. Sometimes you can agree to disagree, but never be disagreeable.

(Taken from “The Prosperous Leader”)

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