“Am I being assertive, passive, or aggressive?”
That’s a question I hear all the time from leaders and managers. Our assertiveness (proactively standing for ourselves, and not standing in opposition of others) is a key to both effective personal branding and leadership. Why? Because assertiveness is authenticity in action.
The need for assertiveness is especially true in two key work dynamics: The first is in difficult conversations, where we want to do the right thing, and we want the other person to agree with us, or at least accept what we are saying. It feels like an internal catch-22.
The second area where assertiveness can feel confusing is in managing our own time effectively. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt like you couldn’t say no to other people’s demands? Maybe a client in crisis, or a boss who always waited until the last minute? Maybe you were stuck in a job you didn't like, or in a role that wasn't fulfilling. Whatever the case may be, if you feel stuck in an unmanageable situation, uncertain how to reclaim your sense of purpose and confidence, then assertively changing the dynamic will remain out of reach. The result is often avoidance and procrastination of a wide range of things, and many are exactly the actions that would get you unstuck and back on track! (Ironic, isn’t it?).
Lack of assertiveness can definitely contribute to procrastination, as it makes it difficult for us to take control of our time, set boundaries, and prioritize our tasks. When we are not assertive, we may struggle to say no to requests from others, take on too much work, or feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities. This can lead to even more procrastination, as we avoid tackling the tasks that cause us stress and anxiety.
For example, let's say you're working on a big project at work, but your boss/client keeps asking you to take on additional tasks. If you're not assertive, you may feel pressured to say yes, even though you're already stretched thin. As a result, you may find yourself procrastinating on the project you're working on, as you struggle to keep up with the demands of your job.
Another example is when you're feeling overwhelmed by your workload, but your team are not doing their part. This workload imbalance can often be a lack of skillset, mismatched roles/responsibilities (poor hiring,) under-defined roles and responsibilities, or simply not communicating clear expectations. All of these can be a direct result of a leader or manager who is not appropriately assertive. If you're not assertive in key communications with your team, you may feel like you have to do everything yourself, leading to feelings of burnout and frustration.
So, how can you overcome this lack of assertiveness and avoid procrastination? The answer in one word is: self-awareness. But to give you some practical actions to get there, here are a few tips:
Practice self-reflection: Take some time to reflect on why you struggle with assertiveness. Are you afraid of conflict? Do you feel like you need to please others at all costs? By understanding your motivations, you can develop strategies to overcome your lack of assertiveness.
Saying no can be difficult, but it's an essential part of being assertive. Start by setting boundaries for yourself and learning to say no to requests that are not aligned with your goals or priorities.
Communicate your needs even if you are afraid. If you're feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities, communicate your needs to those around you. Ask for help or support when you need it, and don't be afraid to speak up when something is not working for you.
Practice assertiveness in every situation that you feel your lack assertiveness. Like any skill, assertiveness takes practice. Start by speaking up in small situations, such as asking for a raise, or negotiating a deadline. Over time, you'll build confidence and become more comfortable with being assertive.
By developing your assertiveness, you can take back your time, set boundaries, and prioritize your tasks. This can help you avoid procrastination and achieve the success you both desire and deserve.
Learn about assertiveness by speaking up in small ways, where the risk doesn’t feel as great, initially. You might find this challenging at first, often second-guessing yourself. But as you continue to practice, you’ll start to see results. Your confidence will start to build, and you will feel more in control.
Remember it’s not about being aggressive or demanding. Assertiveness is about communicating your needs or wants in a clear and respectful way. It also is knowing you’re your own non-negotiables are, and in those rare situations where a solution can’t be reached that satisfies you, knowing what you will do for yourself as a result. When you lack assertiveness, you find yourself putting off tasks or decisions, and accepting unacceptable situations that can damage you career and your health. But as your confidence grows, you’re less likely to put things off, and instead take meaningful actions that are positive and proactive.
So, if you suspect you, or a key member of your team, may have areas where you are unassertive and putting off important actions, know that you have the power to change. You don’t have to do this alone. Reach out for one of my complimentary strategy calls, to see what right next steps could be.