Emily Maitlis, the presenter of Newsnight, decided to take a stand when it was revealed she earned substantially less than her male counterparts at the BBC.
As contracts at the broadcaster came up for negotiation, she signed an open letter asking the corporation to change its ways. It was a bold move, applauded by many. Assertiveness like this can help you command respect among your peers and reduce the chances of co-workers taking advantage of you. It can also pay to be more direct in performance reviews and during salary negotiations.
However, many of us hold back for fear of being perceived as rude or aggressive, and miss out on opportunities as a result. It’s not a wholly unfounded concern either – be too blunt to the wrong person in your organisation and it could hold you back. So here’s how to be forthright without giving the wrong impression.
Be honest – but not too honest
Wesley Rashid, founder of The Accountancy Cloud, recalls one of his first roles as a manager, when he was too forthright: “I was thinking off the cuff and keen to make an impression in one of our first managers’ meetings. I put deeply held opinions out there but was perhaps too assertive.” On reflection, he says, if he’d been more diplomatic, his opinions might have been better received.
Think about your audience
One of Rashid’s top tips for effective assertiveness is to take the people you’re speaking to into consideration. Think about what they get out of what you’re suggesting, and shape your points in line with that. “Find a balance between getting your points across and drawing in the views, opinions and needs of others. If you’re self-assured and deal with others with empathy, it’s a win-win for everyone involved,” says Rashid.
Consider company culture
Different styles of behaviour may be more appropriate in some companies than others. Ryan Edwards-Pritchard, managing director of Funding Options, says that his company has “a zero-tolerance policy towards people who don’t conform to our ethos”. But he believes that it is difficult for assertive actions to be misinterpreted when they are framed within the context of the wider interests of the business, and he says that assertiveness will help position individuals as key members of staff.
Don’t be a steamroller
As you climb the ladder, it can be tempting to apply a steamroller approach to problem-solving, attempting to fix issues when you don’t necessarily have the requisite expertise. This is definitely the wrong kind of assertiveness, says Edwards-Pritchard, who adds that it “can starve other team members of the opportunity to grow by tackling issues themselves”.
Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.