Business Today

Firm Hand

Shamni Pande        Print Edition: Dec 23, 2012

It is a perplexing anomaly. The corporate world is seemingly full of confident people, as suggested by their body language. Yet there are plenty of managers who have trouble asserting themselves . The ability to be firm when required to is a vital skill managers need, but many are found lacking in, say leadership coaches. "Most managers today are efficient, confident and highly articulate, yet they do not say the things they should when these matter the most," says Nandan Savnal, Managing Director of PeopleSys Consulting, whose activities include leadership training.

Shamni Pande
Shamni Pande
Situations in which assertiveness is called for but is often found wanting can range from simple ones, like a junior not doing the job he was hired for, to complex, such as problems which arise while making organisational or process changes. In the first case, the individual has to be pulled up; in the second, seniors have to be bluntly told if things are not going according to plan.

It is not only shy, introverted individuals who have trouble asserting themselves. Even aggressive go-getters are often found dithering. I once heard about a mid-level manager who was seen as a tough, straighttalking individual, but had lately been unable to produce results. After much counselling, he admitted he had chosen not to speak about certain critical problems involving work-flow he was facing. It was these which were affecting his performance.

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"As it is I'm seen as one who is always making a noise about things," he said. "I did not want to be regarded as a person bringing up problems all the time."
Assertiveness does not mean constantly running people down or backbiting. "Assertiveness is not about displaying your unhappiness," says Savnal. "It is not about saying something and letting the issue morph into a resentful stalemate." So what should you do if you find it difficult to be firm? Experts suggest:

Map your response: Managers should analyse their response patterns and modify them if needed. "I will really try. I'm sorry, but the problem is that I'm overloaded…" is a non-assertive response to a request or directive. Consider instead: "I will certainly look at the report, but I need to finish something else first. We can meet on Friday to discuss it, if you like." This conveys the same message, but is so much better. Remember that assertiveness is not the same as aggression. There could, for instance, have been a third reaction as well: "I have no time, who will do my work for me! You will just have to come back later and figure this out." This too can be damaging and should be avoided.

Stay true to your style:
Assertiveness does not mean giving up your core style. If you are a reserved person, you should remain so and yet be assertive when the occasion demands.

Honesty wins: It is important to establish your integrity and ability first. Your own commitment often holds the key.

Practice helps: It always helps to rehearse. Practise honing your body language, making your voice steady and adopting a calm manner while making your points.

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