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How to Know When to Be Assertive With Your Team There is a time for listening, a time for standing back and a time when the boss has to be in charge.

By John Rampton

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


During the course of your professional career how many leaders have you come across that could be best described as a bully? How many were absolute pushovers?

The fact is, being either a bully or a pushover doesn't make for a good leader. Leaders with these characteristics don't have a team that supports them. Instead, the most effective leaders possess assertiveness to motivate and manage their team while handling crises efficiently.

But, what exactly is assertiveness and when do you use it with your team? To better understand assertiveness we first need to quickly review the four distinct communication patterns that we encounter daily:

  • Passive: These are the individuals who avoid conflict, get taken advantage of, and apologize often.
  • Aggressive: Many people view aggressive individuals as a self-righteous bully who is quick to criticize others and be dismissive of other's opinions.
  • Passive-Aggressive: Despite wanting to avoid confrontation, passive-aggressive people can be manipulative and they play games with others to extort power.
  • Assertive: This is believed to be a happy medium between passive and aggressive. Those who are assertive communicate their feelings and opinions, but also seek out win-win scenarios.

The Mayo Clinic states that not only is being assertive a core communication skill, "Being assertive means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others." Additionally, being assertive can boost your self-esteem, reduce stress and ensures that your message gets delivered to those around you.

When to be assertive with your team.

Being assertive is a trait that effective leaders all share. Assertive leaders, after all, have a "we can win," attitude where opinions and feelings are honestly shared. At the same time, everyone on the team is respected and when there is an issue, an assertive leader looks for a resolution.

Assertive leaders are also able to build their confidence up because you have listened to them, they know your expectations, and it helps you handle aggressive or submissive team members.

But, this doesn't mean that you need to be assertive with your team all of the time. Knowing when to be assertive and when to hold back is another core component of an assertive leader.

With that in mind, here are a couple of situations when you know that you have to be assertive with your team.

Related: 7 Hard Truths About Life That People Don't Like to Admit

Getting everyone behind a plan or goal.

Here's a great scenario that was suggested on The Muse. You have a killer idea for an upcoming sales campaign. When you present the idea to your team you listen to their ideas and suggestions. In fact, there may be some excellent suggestions that are going to strengthen your original plan. It could even be as something as simple as tracking client interactions from three to six months. The idea is that you not only got your team to support your plan, you improved it by working together as a team.

That's more effective than being aggressive and telling your team "That won't work," whenever they share an opinion.

Motivating your team.

Sometimes morale is low and your team needs to be inspired. Do you think just accepting the status quo or screaming at them is going to get them motivated? Absolutely not. Instead, use your assertiveness to boost morale and spark passion within your team.

This can be accomplished by allowing everyone on your team to contribute to a project. For example;

  • Encourage your team to take ownership of a project by giving them the freedom to experiment with various solutions.
  • Don't just let the aggressive and self-confident people talk. Give everyone a chance to speak, especially the passive and quiet individuals.
  • Make everyone on your team a leader by assigning different responsibilities to different team members.
  • Set a good example by being positive, sharing your thoughts, and listening to your team.
  • Know if they are an entrepreneur, help them to be an intropreneur within your company.

Keeping everyone in check.

Do you have team who is constantly late? Is their work sloppy? Are your other team members getting frustrated with this apparent lack of respect?

If so, you can choose to handle the situation in a couple of different directions. You could be passive and keep allowing this behavior to continue by making excuses for this individual and either having yourself or someone pick up the slack. You could also be aggressive and call this person out by belittling him in front of everyone else.

Or, you could take the best possible approach and be assertive.

In a private setting, you and the team member sit down and you discuss why their behavior is inappropriate and how it's impacting others. Also, give them a chance to speak. Maybe something else is going own in their lives that is affecting their work. Perhaps you weren't clear on directions. If so, you can find a way to resolve these issues.

If the team member still isn't getting what you are talking about, or is still retaining the same problematic errors, you could try and schedule weekly meetings that may help keep them on track.

Related: 9 Things Successful People Won't Do

Conflict resolution.

We spend a lot of time with our co-workers. So, it's only natural that there will be times when we get frustrated, angry, or we may even experience burnout with our colleagues. In some instances this could lead to conflicts in the workplace where one employee emotional, mentally, or physically harms another. Before that occurs, step-in as an assertive leader and attempt to resolve any issues before things get out of control.

Again, in a private setting, listen to each side of the story from the team members involved. Get the facts straight and keep your cool. Take some time to figure out the best possible outcome by addressing the issue head-on. For example, you may realize that these employees can't sit next to each other, so you move them to different parts of the area or office. If they can't work on projects together, then assign these employees to different teams. If one member is wrong, let's say just being a bully, then explain why that is inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

Related: 7 Things the Army Taught Me About Running a Company

Assertiveness tips to try with your team.

Since not all of us are born being assertive, here are a couple of techniques that you can help yourself learn to implement so you can work to become a more assertive leader.

  • Believe in yourself. You're a valuable member of the team and you shouldn't let anyone take advantage of you.
  • Control your emotions. Don't let your emotions consume you. If you feel angry, frustrated, or disappointed find away to release those feelings by meditating or going for a walk.
  • Set clear boundaries. Glenn Shepard, president of Glenn Shepard Seminars, says, "Your employees are not mind readers." That's why, "You have got to clearly, clearly, clearly define what you expect and what you will not tolerate."
  • Directly and clearly address issues. Don't gossip or allow team members to talk about each behind their backs. Be honest and direct by addressing any issues in the workplace
  • Speak in the first person. This illustrates that you're expressing your feelings and not someone else's.
  • Use positive body language. Stand up straight and make eye contact.
  • Learn to say no. Sometimes you can't accommodate team members. And, there's nothing wrong with that. At the same time, you also have to respect the fact that there will be times when a team member also has to say "no."
  • Hold everyone accountable. This may be tough, but it's not right or fair for poor employees to get get away with inappropriate behavior while good employees have to clean up after them.
  • Rehearse. Plan out your conversation by knowing your main points and being prepared for any questions or objections.
  • Chose your battles. As Shepard says, "A smart manager knows that it's better to lose the battle, sometimes, in order to win the war."
John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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