At the start of training, when we ask frontline professional teams whether they would like all their team members to behave assertively at work a surprisingly large number often reply ‘no’.
Yet if we asked those same people when they are patients waiting for complex surgery, or when waiting to board a flight, whether they would prefer that everyone in the team would speak up if they witnessed an error or unsafe procedure about to be performed, I think it’s fair to assume the response would be a resounding ‘yes’!
So where does the confusion lie about the benefit of all team members behaving assertively?
Why the reluctance to accept routine everyday assertiveness in the workplace as being a helpful asset in all team members, at all times, when we know that co-pilots, cabin crew and medical staff have had vital information that they have not appropriately communicated, leading to catastrophe?
Firstly, the different definitions of Assertiveness can cause confusion. If we look at the Collins English Dictionary definitions, we are using the definition of Assertiveness as being:
Confident and direct in claiming one’s rights or putting forward one’s views
Given to making assertions or bold demands; dogmatic or aggressive
This is not about ego boosting or game playing or about behaving in a domineering controlling manner.
Secondly, it’s having clarity that being aware of our individual human rights and clear about our views does not mean always, or immediately, acting on them, but rather is about making a balanced choice about the appropriate way to attend to them. For example, if a violation to my rights happens at a safety critical time, I can choose to address my right to be spoken to respectfully at a more suitable time.
This is about being honest with ourselves about whether what we are about to say/do will be likely to bring about the outcome we are seeking in our professional role. It is about speaking up appropriately, with good reason – those who speak up primarily to hear the sound of their own voice misunderstand the model!
This Balanced Assertiveness model keeps our rights as individuals balanced with rights of others and with the circumstances. We feel strongly that this philosophy needs to be embraced as part of the culture so that all team members are clear that their role is important, and that they have the right to speak up appropriately and will not be penalised for doing so.