It’s easy to be intimidated by people in positions of authority. In fact, it’s the result of our upbringing. During our childhood, we’re taught to respect, even fear our teachers, principals and our elders. Then we go through the rebellious teenager phase and shun all forms of authority. By the time we reach adulthood, authority figures don’t intimidate us that much.
Or at least that’s what we think. Childhood lessons tend to stick to our subconscious mind, which is why we all feel that slight fear at the thought of our boss. Today, conscious effort is being made to bridge the gap between employer and employee. People are aiming for a more natural rapport and a relationship of mutual respect.
When and How to Be Assertive
1. Potential mistakesWhen you’re being assertive, you essentially stand up for your beliefs while being aware of the rights of others and respecting their opinion. If you think your boss is about to commit a mistake and it could cause your company some loss, you should intervene. Before you do that, however, make sure you’re in the right. Double check your information, research and be prepared to answer all questions.
Once you’re ready, you need to speak with your boss in private, presenting your opinion and findings in a calm, organised manner. If you approach the problem professionally, your boss is more likely to do so as well. However, if you’re calling them out in front of your colleagues, trying to gloat or take advantage of their mistake, you’re not being assertive, but underhanded and aggressive.
2. Facing bulliesYour superiors are human beings and they’re not always going to be kind and supportive people. Bullies are not limited to the corridors of high schools; some of them can be found in offices as well. There are bosses who might insult you, try to intimidate you or take advantage of you. Passive people will endure it for the sake of keeping their jobs, while aggressive people might get angry and indiscreetly fling accusations.
However, an assertive person will be smart about it. First, you need to judge the situation properly. Sometimes a good supervisor might snap under pressure and say or do something they will regret later on. If that’s the case, you’re better off ignoring the entire situation with dignity. However, if the supervisor is a bully and seems to delight in abusing his position of power, it’s time to step in.
You need to confront them in private and explain the situation. Let them know that you aren’t going to ignore it or back down until the unprofessional behaviour stops. Document all cases of abuse or intolerable behaviour in detail and if the situation doesn’t change, contact the HR department.
3. Salary negotiationsWe have observed that employees are very reluctant to discuss salaries and similar matters with their employers. They just don’t want to risk their position or seem too greedy. Again, make sure to consider your position and make sure you’re in the right before stepping forward.
If you know that your performance has been consistent and you’ve been working on the same pay-scale for a long time, you might want to speak with your boss. Again, respectful assertiveness is vital here. Ask for their opinion on your performance, and state that you believe you deserve a raise. If your boss doesn’t agree, ask them why. There’s a chance that he just can’t afford to offer you any raise at the moment. However, if he’s simply unwilling to do so, you might want to consider other options.
4. DiscriminationDiscrimination is another problem people are very reluctant to address, and another situation where being assertive with your boss is the best solution. It’s simply human nature to like one person over another, but bias has no place in a professional environment. If you notice that your boss is favouring someone and offering them interesting assignments and projects just because they like them, then you should speak up.
Of course, you need to get your facts straight before you do so. If the person your supervisor is favouring is simply better suited for the job, then it’s not bias. What you can do in this situation is approach your supervisor and request more challenging assignments to improve your skills. Chances are they’ll grant your request. However, if there is discrimination, you do need to speak up. Confront your supervisor about it, especially if it’s racial or gender bias. Such things shouldn’t be ignored.
5. Work overload
Everyone goes through a period in life where they work themselves to the bone just to please their boss. Hard-working, enthusiastic young people who’ve just entered the job market are particularly prone to this habit. They’re used to burning the midnight oil studying for their exams, after all.
Unfortunately, this can soon become a habit and eventually, you’ll burn out. Your boss might not even be paying attention to your health when they assign tasks to you and set deadlines; they just want to get the work done. At some point, however, you need to stop and say no. In most cases, if you honestly admit you’re being swamped with work on a regular basis, your supervisor will take a step back and ease the work load. If they try to press you, you need to stand firm and say no.
6. Working outside of normal business hoursAdvances in communications technology have propelled our world forward. This has also made it possible for employers to email their staff at any time and assign urgent work to them. It’s not uncommon for people to keep working outside of work hours, taking more assignments home and completing their work on weekends.
Although supervisors may not think it’s wrong, this can disrupt your private life. It’s best to limit your off-hour interactions with your boss. Be assertive with them: simply say that you’re unavailable and maintain your position.