Can Professional Counseling Help You Be More Assertive and Successful in Your Career
Many things contribute to your professional success, such as your education and experience, and your abilities to manage your time, prioritize tasks, make decisions, network, and build relationships, to name but a few.
However, one ability that’s all too often overlooked is the need to be assertive.
What is assertiveness?
Contrary to popular believe, assertiveness does not mean being aggressive or forceful. On the contrary, assertiveness means being self-confident or self-assured WITHOUT being aggressive.
Being assertive means standing up for yourself without doing so at the expense of others. This means tactfully, yet effectively, expressing your opinions, feelings, preferences, and desires, while also respectfully listening to and acknowledging the differing opinions, feelings, preferences, and desires of others.
What’s wrong with being passive or aggressive? Well, if you tend to be passive in your interactions with others, you’re basically saying that your opinions and feelings aren’t as important as those of others, and you’re giving up control over whatever situation you’re in. On the other hand, while being aggressive may get one what he or she wants, it comes at the expense of being respected, trusted, and liked.
Why is assertiveness so important for your career?
How Assertiveness Can Help Your Career
Being more assertive can help your career in more ways than you may realize. For example…
- Getting Noticed – Career advancement requires you to stand out and get noticed… and you’re not going to do that simply by showing up to work every day and doing the tasks you’re given, even if you work long hours and have a pleasant demeanor. Learning to more assertively share your creative ideas and problem solving abilities can be key when it comes to getting noticed by leaders in your company and industry. And, getting noticed is the first step when it comes to being offered employment or getting promoted. Even being able to confidently ask the right questions can help you stand out at meetings, in conferences, and in the boss’s office.
- Setting Boundaries – If your co-workers are intimidating you, mistreating you, or interfering with your productivity, you need to work on your ability to set boundaries. Learning to be assertive can help you do just that without being aggressive about it. Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries can also help you say, “No” – whether that “no” is to new assignments when you’re already overloaded with work or going out with friends when you’re on a tight deadline. In fact, though it can be one of the most difficult skills to learn, learning to say “no” in a self-assured but non-aggressive manner is a skill that can help you in almost every aspect of your life, both personal and professional.
- Getting Paid More – Yes, learning to be more assertive can help you earn more money! This may be obvious since assertiveness can help you get noticed, get hired, and get promoted. But, learning to be more assertive can also help you ask for a raise and negotiate a better salary when the time comes.
How You Can Become More Assertive
While many people erroneously believe that assertiveness is some kind of innate personality characteristic, it is a learnable communication skill.
We all develop different communication styles based on our life experiences and, accordingly, assertiveness can be thought of as existing along a continuum.
At one end of the spectrum, some people are inconsiderate, self-centered, arrogant, or overly aggressive. At the other end are those who are passive, self-sacrificing, compliant, or more timid than they need be.
Thus, in order to become more assertive, some people will need to learn to be less forceful and demanding, while others will have to learn to confidently ask for what they want.
Therefore, the first step in becoming more assertive is to take an honest, objective look at your present communication style and determine where your self-expression lies on the assertiveness spectrum.
Do you always try to be seen as someone who’s “pleasant” or “nice” or as someone who “doesn’t stir the pot?” Do you tend to “turn the other cheek?” Do you let others take all the credit and ask for and get what they want? Do you have a hard time saying, “No?” Or, do you push others aside to make sure your needs are met?
If it helps, you can keep a journal of your interactions with others over the course of a couple of weeks. Note down what takes place as objectively as possible, as well as how each interaction makes you feel.
If you’re having difficulty figuring out how passive, aggressive, or assertive you are, don’t worry… You’re far from alone. The way you communicate and handle conflict may be so ingrained that you’re not even aware of it.
This is one of the reasons why it can be beneficial to seek the professional assistance of a career counselor or some other mental health professional trained in helping people become more assertive.
Another is that learning to be assertive takes time and practice. If you’ve spent years biting your lip instead of expressing yourself or yelling when you feel that’s the only way to be heard and get what you want, you’re unlikely to learn how to be more assertive overnight.
A professional counselor can help you…
- Cope with the anxiety and stress that are a part of making any significant changes to the way we do things;
- Determine appropriate ways of being assertive in different situations;
- Practice being assertive (which, don’t forget, includes listening to other people and respecting their feelings and opinions); and
- Reconcile any values or beliefs that are keeping you from being more assertive and getting all that you need and deserve.
Being assertive is a core communication skill. Assertiveness can help you better manage your anger or overcome shyness, anxiety, or fear, as well as express your true feelings and needs more easily and effectively. As a result, you’ll be more likely to get more of what you want out of your career and out of your life!
Betty Cohen, M.S., NCC, MCC
Serving San Francisco Bay Area, CA, and Phoenix Metro Area, AZ
Phone: (650) 868-5396