The Art of Being Assertive

I got married in August – which is why all my dreams of reviving this blog were, yet again, pushed aside in favor of catering coordination, bridesmaid management, and marriage counseling. Sorry for that.

We were engaged for 9 months prior to the wedding, and it took almost as long for me to learn just how I should plan a wedding. You see, when you get engaged, everyone has ideas about how things should be done – everything from who should be in the wedding, what time the wedding should be, the kind of meat and beer served at the wedding, the easiest way to decorate tables, how long the waitstaff should be expected to stay. It’s endless. It’s awful.

I’m not a timid person, but throughout the wedding planning process, I have had THE WORST time filtering these outside opinions so that they make sense to me, and lead to decisions. Whether or not these people are important to me, their opinions have become expectations in my mind. Fearing an uncomfortable situation with future-in-laws or friends, I’ve enthused: “oh, wow, what an awesome idea!” when I’ve inwardly cringed at their suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong – most of the suggestions have been truly helpful, but the best advice I got came in a question posed by my mother: “Meg, what do you want?”

It occurred to me that what I’d always counted as one of the attributes of an outgoing person, is actually an acquired skill – assertiveness comes with practice. And since this epiphany, I’ve realized that my days are fraught with opportunities to sharpen this skill. And in working remotely, this skill couldn’t be more important. Making sure that you’re understood, informed and confident is elemental in telecommuting for two reasons:

  1. So the work gets done efficiently and correctly, and
  2. So you’re taken seriously and your ass is covered.

Details

In emails, it comes in the form of clarifying details and situations, and making sure that what you want or need from someone is always on the table at some point. In emails, you can finesse the language of the “ask” or “clarification.” On the phone, it gets a little harder.

Whether I’m on a call with a client or my team, or even a recent call working out the parameters of a campaign with a promotional partner, I need to speak up if I feel like there’s some confusion on my part or overall. You can look a little less poised if you’re asking for info you may have missed, but I’ve learned the hard way to get my questions addressed on the phone rather than “off-line” with a teammate (who 50% of the time also likely missed the detail I’m looking for).  It’s doesn’t look good if you get off the phone looking buttoned up, and then send a email illustrating the opposite.

Impressions

Besides details, being assertive gives teammates, clients and media an important impression of the remote worker. This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of it. I’m a relational person and need the people I work with to take me seriously. So I make it a goal to speak up, ask a question, chime in with an idea on every call I’m on (that isn’t a media briefing). It’s important because it communicates an element of control and let’s the other participants of the call know that you have some stake in the conversation.

Assertiveness = Balance

It’s a delicate balance to strike on the social spectrum between passive and aggressive. There’s always the temptation to be polite and refrain from voicing concerns, but this is a passive way to communicate, and people will walk all over you. On the other hand, an aggressive nature will give the call a tense dynamic and people won’t want to work with you – they’ll feel run over and defensive.

Here’s the bottom line: when you’re remote, your emails, voice and ideas are frame your colleagues’ impressions of you. It lets them know whether to trust you with a partnership negotiation, pitching a curmudgeon journalist, or presenting a plan to a client. Good work gets done when people can communicate openly with each other, and being assertive is your best shot at making sure that happens.

And making sure that there’s NO IVY in your wedding bouquet.

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