Being Assertive

by Jul 21, 2012

A woman approached me after one of my recent workplace bully workshops to tell me about her experiences being bullied at work. After working in her school district for over 20 years, her last 3 years have been miserable thanks to a new boss. The new boss has begun giving the woman who approached me very low performance reviews, despite over 20 years of really good reviews, promotions and raises. The new boss is essentially using the annual employee reviews as a venue for bullying.

Thus far, the woman hasn’t said anything to her new bullying boss, but has reported the incidences to her union. The union has indicated they will refrain from taking any action until she brings the issue to the attention of HR. And she hasn’t done that because she fears the repercussions. She is also scared of her boss, and perhaps rightfully so.

But not addressing the issue directly with the boss is a problem. I recommended that she try to be more assertive.

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes and rights without stepping on other people’s toes. It’s not aggressiveness – that would make you a bully. But it’s not being a doormat either.

Assertiveness is dependent upon feeling good about yourself and a sense that your behavior will produce the results you are seeking. Therefore it requires confidence, along with the following three parts: a) validation, b) statement of problem, and c) statement of solution.

a) Validation refers to showing your understanding of the other person.

For example, saying something like, “I understand you believe my performance is below par” will acknowledge the bully’s point of view, even if you disagree with it. But remember he or she is seeking power, so dismissing the bully’s opinions may not be the answer either.

b) Statement of problem describes your difficulty or dissatisfaction, and explains why something needs to change.

For example, “But when you write these negative things on my performance review without providing any real tangible evidence of their existence it hurts our working relationship and my ability to continue to produce satisfactory work for you.”

c) Statement of solution provides a specific request for a specific change in the other person’s behavior.

For example, “I have received over 20 years of positive and even raving reviews, so clearly there is a disconnect in our relationship, because all of a sudden the reviews I receive from you are not so positive. I believe I continue to be a fantastic contributing employee, so your reviews concern me. From now on, I expect that we will work together on any of the areas you feel need improvement. So when are you free to meet with me to discuss your review in greater detail and provide tangible goals for me to reach? And by the way, I will be bringing another co-worker with me to the meeting just to sit in and listen.”

From here, you’ve cornered him or her into having to take a meeting with you. As scared as you might be to attend that meeting, this is what standing up for yourself is all about. Bring a co-worker, as is your right, so the bully is less inclined to use that behavior during the meeting. If the bullying does come out, now you’ve got a witness. This guest’s role should simply be to sit in the corner and listen. They should not say anything at all.

If the bullying boss will not take a meeting with you, send a few emails attempting to schedule it. If still no response, then send an email to HR indicating that you’d like to work on your performance, but can’t get a meeting with your boss to discuss performance goals.

Remember, bullies pick on everyone, but they single out the people that allow the bullying to occur. Start demonstrating you’re not okay with being treated that way by serving your self-confidence up to him or her on a silver platter. Mrs Roosevelt had it right when she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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