Career coach… Prove your assertiveness

I recently underwent a 360-degree appraisal with my manager and some of my team. While most of their feedback was positive, they did make one worrying observation. It seems I am viewed as a ‘yes’ person who will agree to anything rather than rock the boat. But I’d like to think I can stand up for myself. How do I prove to my colleagues that I’m assertive?

First, celebrate the positive: 360-degree feedback often reveals aspects of how we’re perceived, which can be painful to confront. It can be unfortunate when you see yourself through the eyes of colleagues. Take time to consider your many strengths and how they might be broadly applied.

The phrasing of your question is interesting in itself. Why ‘prove to colleagues’ you’re assertive? The beginning of any lasting change is recognising that your leadership journey is personal to you. Understand the implications of the feedback for yourself, not for others, and put yourself in control of any subsequent changes.

Ask yourself about your emotional response to what you perceive as conflict, and pinpoint your feelings. Is it fear of failure or a desire to please? If in doubt, speak to a trusted colleague about situations where you felt you could have stood your ground more firmly. How often have you been unsure about why someone is demanding something of you, but nonetheless agreed to it with discomfort? The basis for mutual agreement is understanding the needs of the other party, and sharing your own.

Most leadership experts agree that some conflict at work is not only inevitable, but results in better outcomes. As a manager, you’re paid to have an opinion and to be able to support it. You will do your team a disservice by not defending issues effectively. So before you enter discussions, identify your key points and the reasons for them so that you know what you think and why. Never hesitate to share your rationale – it can be persuasive.

Another technique is to reflect on times you felt in control. What caused you to behave like that? What did you do and what feedback did you get? Look around your organisation and identify people who handle disagreement in a way that you find admirable and use them as a role model. Then, repeat these steps in a safe environment and get feedback.

However, don’t over-compensate and start taking issue with every little thing find a style that’s authentic to you. An immediate change in behaviour is the first step in eventually changing perceptions. Remember, you have a choice in every action you take and the power to exercise that choice is yours. You need to be proud of the leader you become.

By Adrian Starkey, head of executive coaching, DDI

If you have a question for our panel of career coaches, send your question to

Comments are closed.