The right to say No – Assertiveness in Business

Having a constant flow of interesting work was important to Malcolm.  He was always on the lookout for a new project that looked sexy and would reflect well on him.  Malcolm’s problem was the enormous workload that he ended up with.  He often missed deadlines because he was trying to do too much and found it really difficult to say “No”.

Although Malcolm’s problem was mainly self-made, a great many people in commerce and industry are over-stretched because others impose additional tasks on them, assuming that, if they are not saying “No”, they must be saying “Yes”. However, for so many people, saying “No” has negative implications and is not something they want to do for fear of being seen as uncooperative.

Yes, assertiveness is a skill that is still pretty rare, mainly because it is often mistaken for aggression.  To be clear aggression is the use of verbal, emotional or physical force in an unfriendly way to manipulate another person to comply with your requests.  The effect being that the other person feels that their rights have been violated.  Assertiveness, on the other hand, is the understanding and defense of your own rights.  Assertiveness is designed to protect your rights as an adult individual.

Examples of individual rights include:

1. I have the right to make mistakes and to take responsibility for them.

2. I have the right to change my mind.

3. I have the right to judge whether I am responsible for solving problems of others.

4. I have the right to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” or “I don’t care”

These examples are all illustrations of a healthy adult-adult relationship with yourself not to mention an adult-adult relationship with others. Many non-assertive situations are caused by one person taking on a child-like role, acting as the victim.  This has the effect of pushing the other person in the relationship into a parent-like role where it is easy to be controlling, judgmental and critical. An aggression-compliance relationship is difficult to avoid leaving both parties feeling unhappy about the outcome.  Yes, it’s true; not only does the compliant person feel their rights have been violated but the aggressive person will feel they have, in some way, been manipulated.  “You were asking for it!”, “I had no alternative!” or “You made me do it!” are all common excuses used by aggressive people.

Malcolm had not given himself the right to say “I’ve changed my mind”, “I made a mistake” and “I need some help”.  He often felt trapped in a device of his own making and his child-like vanity was driving him to be involved in more attractive projects in order that he would look good.  Unfortunately the worker in Malcolm was not as productive as the salesman in Malcolm made him look.  In effect he was violating his own rights, manipulating himself in a way that is encouraged in today’s cut-throat business world.  Malcolm needs to look after his own rights because no-one else will.

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