Wikipedia defines assertiveness as the following:

a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.

As a Filipino American who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at the age of 11, I was taught not to challenge authority and not to “make waves”. Throughout my life, including my early few years in my career, I was not very assertive, meaning I was not willing to speak up for myself or others.  Few years ago, I left a position because I was very frustrated with my role in the organization. I kept my frustration to myself and looked for another job. After I accepted the job offer, a very good friend of mine who is also part of the management above me was very surprised of my decision. As a matter of fact, he was a little disappointed that I had not spoken to him about the issues I had which led me to leave the organization.  I told him I have felt the frustration for years but I felt it was not my place to complain. I was also disappointed in myself for not having had the courage to share my frustration with my supervisor and to the management before I made my decision to leave. Fortunately, I was able to come back to the organization a few months later when an opening came up and I was asked to apply for my old position.

For the last few years, I have learned to be more assertive by stating my opinions on workplace matters during meetings and during occasions I felt I needed to share my perspective.  While my natural inclination is to still not “make wave”, I do realize the value of being honest with others and expressing my opinions in a way that is productive and still maintains the collaborative workplace relationships.  I have also come to realize the importance of assertiveness in my leadership position. I am no longer just representing myself. I am in a position to share and represent my team’s perspectives.  I also think that my team has more confidence in me to be able to represent their needs and viewpoints.

In modeling an assertive, confident behavior, I do feel I am building that culture where my team feels they themselves can express and represent themselves.  In modeling assertiveness, I do make sure that I display the right level. In my opinion, there is a fine line between assertiveness and arrogance so I always keep in mind that I am always aiming to maintain positive relationship and partnership in my interactions with my co-workers.

I work with very technically knowledgeable colleagues and they have very strong opinions on how systems should be implemented due to security, supportability and consistency with other system. In general, while technical staff recognizes that the systems they are implementing are to support the business requirements of our customers, the manners in which these systems are implemented do not always coincide with the business requirements.  On the other side, I work with some customers who have definite needs and they are not shy in expressing them.  In my role as the team leader of software developers, project manager, and liaison to our business customers, it is part of my responsibility to represent the needs and perspectives of the different units involved in the projects.  It is important for me then to sometimes challenge proposed ideas I feel those ideas are not consistent with the goals of the project and the organization as a whole.

The road to being assertive was not an overnight process, not for me anyways. It was a gradual realization that I had to take personal responsibility for my career and those I lead.  I had to examine my cultural values and experience to realize I may have to go beyond the boundaries of what I was taught, even if it means being comfortable at times.

What is your take on assertiveness?