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Use assertiveness, not aggression

Show force without making enemies

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Assertive managers influence employees to perform at a higher level. But if you push too hard, your aggressiveness can trigger a resistant backlash and alienate your team.

There’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. Here’s how to make sure you don’t cross it:

Mix bluster with charm. It’s fine to rally your employees by expressing strong, blunt opinions. But if your outspoken remarks turn to bullying threats, then you’ve got to tame your aggressiveness.

Consider how Edward Crutchfield, the CEO of First Union Corp., tried to win over employees after his firm acquired a series of regional banks. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, he would introduce himself to small groups and say, “I bet no one here has the guts to ask me an insulting question."

Now that’s assertive. If he was met with silence, he’d begin to beg, “I’m trying to tell you, desperately, this is a people place. And if you don’t believe me, try me." Then he’d give out his home phone number.

Crutchfield’s combination of issuing a hard-charging challenge and then pleading in a softer tone created a wonderfully assertive presentation—without degenerating into an aggressive, macho test of wills.

Clarify, don’t contradict. When a staffer says something that rubs you the wrong way, seek to clarify what you heard by asking questions. Avoid the aggressive response of barking “you’re wrong” and playing know-it-all. A more assertive approach is to prompt the speaker to dig a bit further so that he discovers for himself a key truth.

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