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Assertiveness in the Workplace




                     Entry Level High Tech Skills Training
                            Participant Materials

                                       CAPITAL Career Center
                                      Portland Community College




This program financed in whole or in part with funds provided through Worksystems, Inc. from the U.S. Department of Labor. Equal
Opportunity Employer/Program, Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities, TTY (503) 533-
    2900. La Igualdad de Oportunidades de Empleos Es La Ley. Servicios auxilliares disponibles a pedido para minusválidos.
Assertiveness in the Workplace
                                         Pre-Test

Decide if the following statements are true or false, and mark T or F in the blanks.

   1. _____Assertiveness and aggressiveness mean the same thing.

   2. _____ In the American workplace, you should never be assertive when talking to your
      supervisor or coworkers.

   3. _____ Acceptable levels of assertiveness are different in every culture.

   4. _____Generally, assertiveness is more acceptable in men than women in the United
      States.

   5. _____Telling your supervisor your idea about how to improve a work process is an
      example of assertive behavior.

   6. _____Respecting other people’s point of view is an important part of learning to be
      more assertive.

   7. _____Telling someone to shut up is an example of assertive behavior.

   8. _____Asking someone to turn down their radio is an example of aggressive behavior.

   9. _____If you don’t speak up at work, you can feel depressed, tired and resentful.




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                     2
What is Assertiveness?
   1. Is it hard for you to talk to someone who is higher in power or authority? (for
      example, a supervisor or manager)

   2. Do you sometimes say yes when you want to say no?

   3. Are you unable to tell someone you are unhappy or upset with him/her, even if
      you really want to?

   4. Is it hard for you to accept a compliment (kind words about you?)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be hard for you to stand up for yourself
or speak up, even when you want or need to. In English, we call this ability “assertiveness.”

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly tell others your feelings, opinions, beliefs, suggestions
and needs, and to not do what you don’t want to do. We also sometimes call it the ability to
“stand up for yourself.” Many people feel guilty when they try to do this, and so they keep
quiet and then feel bad, hopeless or powerless. If you come from a culture that forbids you to
speak up to others who have more power than you, it will be even harder to assert yourself.

Assertive people listen to and respect other people’s opinions and feelings, even if they do
not agree with them. Aggressive people, on the other hand, do not respect other people’s
opinions and feelings, and they try to force their own ideas on others. Sometimes we call
them “pushy” or “a bully.”

People from other cultures may not be familiar with the idea of assertiveness. It may not be
acceptable to “stand up for yourself” or assert yourself with others, especially family or
supervisors. More about that later.

In the American culture, assertive behavior is generally more respected than aggressive
behavior, although there are certain occupations and businesses in which aggressiveness is
admired; for example, car sales, lawyers, and politics. Can you think of any more?

Why is assertiveness important?
Many of us are taught as children that we should try to please others, that it is not nice or
polite to consider our own needs more than others’. If someone says or does something that
we don’t like, we should just be quiet and try to stay away from that person. Your culture may
teach this, or you may believe it because you are a woman, or because your parents told you
this. However, studies show that people who do not speak up or stand up for themselves can
have health problems like depression, anger, anxiety, and poor relationships, or physical
problems like headaches, ulcers and high blood pressure.




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                          3
If you don’t stand up for yourself, people may try to take advantage of you because you never
say no:

      At work, coworkers may think of you as weak or passive, even if it isn’t true.
      At home, you might have problems with your children not listening to you or respecting
       you.

Of course, it is easier to be assertive in some situations than in others, and there are usually
consequences to being more assertive. It’s hard to talk to a boss who is known to explode
when people confront him, or to a family member that always expects you to do what they
ask, even if you’re busy.

If you wonder whether you should be assertive in a particular situation, talk to someone first
and make sure you can live with the possible consequences. If you can’t, sometimes it is
better not to confront, and to deal with the situation in another way.

Generally, being assertive leads to more respect from others, and to higher self esteem and
confidence in yourself. You will be able to communicate more effectively in difficult situations,
and be able to make good decisions for yourself.

Think about yourself. How do you think others see you? Assertive? Aggressive? Passive?
Invisible? How do you see yourself?




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                            4
Becoming More Assertive
   1. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand what someone is asking you to do. It may
      feel hard the first time, but it will save you lots of problems later.

   2. If someone asks you to do something that you aren’t sure you want to do, take some
      time to think about it. Tell the person you will get back to them.

   3. Know your boundaries and respect them. Boundaries are your personal limits; they let
      you know when someone is taking advantage of you, or trying to make you do
      something you don’t want to do. Boundaries keep you safe.

   4. Say “no” if you mean no, not “I don’t think so…” You don’t need to give a long reason
      or explanation. Keep it short.

   5. You may have to say no several times before the person believes you. Just keep
      repeating it.

   6. If the person will not accept your “no” answer, use silence, or change the subject. You
      have the right to end the conversation.

   7. Avoid feeling guilty. It is not up to you to solve other people’s problems or make them
      happy.

   8. If you don’t want to agree to the person’s first request, but still want to help him or her
      out, offer a compromise. “I won’t be able to baby-sit the whole afternoon, but I can do it
      for two hours.”

   9. You can change your mind and say no to a request that you originally said yes to.

If you need to tell someone to stop doing something, for example, use the following steps:

      Choose the time and place you will talk to the person, preferably away from the
       situation.
      Describe their behavior clearly and its effect on you. Use I statements to let them know
       how it makes you feel. “When you call me Paco, I feel angry and embarrassed.
      Ask for a specific change in behavior: “Please stop calling me that name.”
      Describe the consequences, and do not make threats you will not keep. “If you
       continue, I will go to HR and report your behavior.”

Remember, it takes time and practice to become more assertive. Start with people you don’t
know. Then try it with a family member you trust. Over time, you will feel stronger and more
confident. People know when you respect yourself, and they will treat you with respect.




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                         5
Cultural Differences and Assertiveness
“It’s not what you said; it’s how you said it.” Sometimes how we say things has more impact
than what we say, and this is especially true when people from different cultures and
languages are trying to communicate. It is easy to misunderstand someone from another
culture if we listen only to their words, because there are many important differences in
communication “styles.”

For example, every culture has its own ways of greeting people. People from the United
States often say “how are you?” when they see someone, but they usually don’t wait for an
answer. People from other countries may think this is rude, but for Americans, it is just like
saying “hello.” In some Asian countries older people are greeted differently than younger
ones; often there are special titles or greetings that are used to show respect. In the United
States this may or may not be, depending on the area of the country, the person’s family
background, and their personal point of view.

In terms of assertiveness, there are many opportunities to misunderstand someone’s
intentions if they are from a different culture. For example, tone of voice means different
things to different people. In some countries people speak very loudly in their everyday
conversations; in the United States this is considered to be aggressive or even offensive.
Likewise, in other cultures people tend to speak more softly; Americans may see this as
passive or afraid.

There is no “one right way” to communicate. What is considered assertive in one culture can
be aggressive in another. Be willing to be flexible, to try to understand the other person’s
point of view, and respect rather than judge the differences.

Following are some other ways in which people communicate differently. Can you recognize
any of them?

   1. In some cultures, talking about feelings is important and respected. In others, people
      never speak about their feelings, and doing so is considered impolite.

   2. In some cultures, people get to the point immediately in a conversation. In other
      cultures, people lead up to the main point, adding a lot of details and “storytelling.”

   3. Mixing business with pleasure. Some cultures will not do business until there has been
      some social conversation. In others, people get right down to business and consider it
      inappropriate to talk about personal things.

   4. Being too assertive for one’s age. If a person’s culture tells them to respect older
      people, then it may be difficult to have an equal relationship with an older coworker or
      subordinate.

   5. Being too assertive for one’s gender. Many cultures teach women to be subordinate to
      men, but in the American workplace women are usually given equal status. It can be


CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                          6
hard for a woman to supervise men if her cultural background tells her this is wrong.
       On the other hand, it can be difficult for men to accept a female supervisor if their
       culture puts women below men in status.

   6. Even if people from other countries speak English well and have lived in the United
      States for a long time, they may retain much of their original culture’s non-verbal
      communication styles. Eye contact is considered rude in some cultures, while in the
      United States it is considered honest and open, and essential in the workplace. In
      some cultures people stand very close to one another when they speak; in the United
      States that is often considered aggressive or inappropriate. Tone of voice, gestures,
      and posture also vary from culture to culture.

   7. Bringing up problems. In some cultures problems are never brought up directly,
      because it is considered rude to do so. Instead, problems are referred to in a
      roundabout way, and the speaker assumes the other person will “get it.” In others, it is
      important to be up front about the problem, naming it and trying to solve it. If you are
      from a culture where problems are never brought up directly, it may be hard for you
      when a supervisor or coworker confronts you.

   8. Using someone’s first name is considered impolite in some cultures, especially if the
      person is a boss, teacher or an older person. In the United States, generally people
      feel free to call one another by first names.

Discussion:

Can you think of some ways your culture is different from the American culture in acceptable
levels of assertiveness?
What assertive behaviors in the United States are considered rude or aggressive in your
country?




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                        7
Assertiveness in the Workplace
                                        Post-Test
Decide if the following statements are true or false, and mark T or F in the blanks.

   1. _____Assertiveness and aggressiveness mean the same thing.

   2. _____ In the American workplace, you should never be assertive when talking to your
      supervisor or coworkers.

   3. _____ Acceptable levels of assertiveness are different in every culture.

   4. _____Generally, assertiveness is more acceptable in men than women in the United
      States.

   5. _____Telling your supervisor your idea about how to improve a work process is an
      example of assertive behavior.

   6. _____Respecting other people’s point of view is an important part of learning to be
      more assertive.

   7. _____Telling someone to shut up is an example of assertive behavior.

   8. _____Asking someone to turn down their radio is an example of aggressive behavior.

   9. _____If you don’t speak up at work, you can feel depressed, tired and resentful.




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                                     8
Evaluation
                              Assertiveness in the Workplace

   1. What was the most useful thing you learned in this class?




   2. Do you understand assertiveness in the American workplace better now?
      How?




   3. Do you feel you understand how differences in culture and language can create
      problems in the workplace?




   4. Do you have some ideas for how you will be more assertive at work now? If so,
      what will you do?




   5. Is there anything you would add or change in this class to make it better?




   6. Other comments about this class:




CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009                                               9

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Assertiveness in the Workplace

  • 1. Assertiveness in the Workplace Entry Level High Tech Skills Training Participant Materials CAPITAL Career Center Portland Community College This program financed in whole or in part with funds provided through Worksystems, Inc. from the U.S. Department of Labor. Equal Opportunity Employer/Program, Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities, TTY (503) 533- 2900. La Igualdad de Oportunidades de Empleos Es La Ley. Servicios auxilliares disponibles a pedido para minusválidos.
  • 2. Assertiveness in the Workplace Pre-Test Decide if the following statements are true or false, and mark T or F in the blanks. 1. _____Assertiveness and aggressiveness mean the same thing. 2. _____ In the American workplace, you should never be assertive when talking to your supervisor or coworkers. 3. _____ Acceptable levels of assertiveness are different in every culture. 4. _____Generally, assertiveness is more acceptable in men than women in the United States. 5. _____Telling your supervisor your idea about how to improve a work process is an example of assertive behavior. 6. _____Respecting other people’s point of view is an important part of learning to be more assertive. 7. _____Telling someone to shut up is an example of assertive behavior. 8. _____Asking someone to turn down their radio is an example of aggressive behavior. 9. _____If you don’t speak up at work, you can feel depressed, tired and resentful. CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 2
  • 3. What is Assertiveness? 1. Is it hard for you to talk to someone who is higher in power or authority? (for example, a supervisor or manager) 2. Do you sometimes say yes when you want to say no? 3. Are you unable to tell someone you are unhappy or upset with him/her, even if you really want to? 4. Is it hard for you to accept a compliment (kind words about you?) If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be hard for you to stand up for yourself or speak up, even when you want or need to. In English, we call this ability “assertiveness.” Assertiveness is the ability to honestly tell others your feelings, opinions, beliefs, suggestions and needs, and to not do what you don’t want to do. We also sometimes call it the ability to “stand up for yourself.” Many people feel guilty when they try to do this, and so they keep quiet and then feel bad, hopeless or powerless. If you come from a culture that forbids you to speak up to others who have more power than you, it will be even harder to assert yourself. Assertive people listen to and respect other people’s opinions and feelings, even if they do not agree with them. Aggressive people, on the other hand, do not respect other people’s opinions and feelings, and they try to force their own ideas on others. Sometimes we call them “pushy” or “a bully.” People from other cultures may not be familiar with the idea of assertiveness. It may not be acceptable to “stand up for yourself” or assert yourself with others, especially family or supervisors. More about that later. In the American culture, assertive behavior is generally more respected than aggressive behavior, although there are certain occupations and businesses in which aggressiveness is admired; for example, car sales, lawyers, and politics. Can you think of any more? Why is assertiveness important? Many of us are taught as children that we should try to please others, that it is not nice or polite to consider our own needs more than others’. If someone says or does something that we don’t like, we should just be quiet and try to stay away from that person. Your culture may teach this, or you may believe it because you are a woman, or because your parents told you this. However, studies show that people who do not speak up or stand up for themselves can have health problems like depression, anger, anxiety, and poor relationships, or physical problems like headaches, ulcers and high blood pressure. CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 3
  • 4. If you don’t stand up for yourself, people may try to take advantage of you because you never say no:  At work, coworkers may think of you as weak or passive, even if it isn’t true.  At home, you might have problems with your children not listening to you or respecting you. Of course, it is easier to be assertive in some situations than in others, and there are usually consequences to being more assertive. It’s hard to talk to a boss who is known to explode when people confront him, or to a family member that always expects you to do what they ask, even if you’re busy. If you wonder whether you should be assertive in a particular situation, talk to someone first and make sure you can live with the possible consequences. If you can’t, sometimes it is better not to confront, and to deal with the situation in another way. Generally, being assertive leads to more respect from others, and to higher self esteem and confidence in yourself. You will be able to communicate more effectively in difficult situations, and be able to make good decisions for yourself. Think about yourself. How do you think others see you? Assertive? Aggressive? Passive? Invisible? How do you see yourself? CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 4
  • 5. Becoming More Assertive 1. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand what someone is asking you to do. It may feel hard the first time, but it will save you lots of problems later. 2. If someone asks you to do something that you aren’t sure you want to do, take some time to think about it. Tell the person you will get back to them. 3. Know your boundaries and respect them. Boundaries are your personal limits; they let you know when someone is taking advantage of you, or trying to make you do something you don’t want to do. Boundaries keep you safe. 4. Say “no” if you mean no, not “I don’t think so…” You don’t need to give a long reason or explanation. Keep it short. 5. You may have to say no several times before the person believes you. Just keep repeating it. 6. If the person will not accept your “no” answer, use silence, or change the subject. You have the right to end the conversation. 7. Avoid feeling guilty. It is not up to you to solve other people’s problems or make them happy. 8. If you don’t want to agree to the person’s first request, but still want to help him or her out, offer a compromise. “I won’t be able to baby-sit the whole afternoon, but I can do it for two hours.” 9. You can change your mind and say no to a request that you originally said yes to. If you need to tell someone to stop doing something, for example, use the following steps:  Choose the time and place you will talk to the person, preferably away from the situation.  Describe their behavior clearly and its effect on you. Use I statements to let them know how it makes you feel. “When you call me Paco, I feel angry and embarrassed.  Ask for a specific change in behavior: “Please stop calling me that name.”  Describe the consequences, and do not make threats you will not keep. “If you continue, I will go to HR and report your behavior.” Remember, it takes time and practice to become more assertive. Start with people you don’t know. Then try it with a family member you trust. Over time, you will feel stronger and more confident. People know when you respect yourself, and they will treat you with respect. CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 5
  • 6. Cultural Differences and Assertiveness “It’s not what you said; it’s how you said it.” Sometimes how we say things has more impact than what we say, and this is especially true when people from different cultures and languages are trying to communicate. It is easy to misunderstand someone from another culture if we listen only to their words, because there are many important differences in communication “styles.” For example, every culture has its own ways of greeting people. People from the United States often say “how are you?” when they see someone, but they usually don’t wait for an answer. People from other countries may think this is rude, but for Americans, it is just like saying “hello.” In some Asian countries older people are greeted differently than younger ones; often there are special titles or greetings that are used to show respect. In the United States this may or may not be, depending on the area of the country, the person’s family background, and their personal point of view. In terms of assertiveness, there are many opportunities to misunderstand someone’s intentions if they are from a different culture. For example, tone of voice means different things to different people. In some countries people speak very loudly in their everyday conversations; in the United States this is considered to be aggressive or even offensive. Likewise, in other cultures people tend to speak more softly; Americans may see this as passive or afraid. There is no “one right way” to communicate. What is considered assertive in one culture can be aggressive in another. Be willing to be flexible, to try to understand the other person’s point of view, and respect rather than judge the differences. Following are some other ways in which people communicate differently. Can you recognize any of them? 1. In some cultures, talking about feelings is important and respected. In others, people never speak about their feelings, and doing so is considered impolite. 2. In some cultures, people get to the point immediately in a conversation. In other cultures, people lead up to the main point, adding a lot of details and “storytelling.” 3. Mixing business with pleasure. Some cultures will not do business until there has been some social conversation. In others, people get right down to business and consider it inappropriate to talk about personal things. 4. Being too assertive for one’s age. If a person’s culture tells them to respect older people, then it may be difficult to have an equal relationship with an older coworker or subordinate. 5. Being too assertive for one’s gender. Many cultures teach women to be subordinate to men, but in the American workplace women are usually given equal status. It can be CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 6
  • 7. hard for a woman to supervise men if her cultural background tells her this is wrong. On the other hand, it can be difficult for men to accept a female supervisor if their culture puts women below men in status. 6. Even if people from other countries speak English well and have lived in the United States for a long time, they may retain much of their original culture’s non-verbal communication styles. Eye contact is considered rude in some cultures, while in the United States it is considered honest and open, and essential in the workplace. In some cultures people stand very close to one another when they speak; in the United States that is often considered aggressive or inappropriate. Tone of voice, gestures, and posture also vary from culture to culture. 7. Bringing up problems. In some cultures problems are never brought up directly, because it is considered rude to do so. Instead, problems are referred to in a roundabout way, and the speaker assumes the other person will “get it.” In others, it is important to be up front about the problem, naming it and trying to solve it. If you are from a culture where problems are never brought up directly, it may be hard for you when a supervisor or coworker confronts you. 8. Using someone’s first name is considered impolite in some cultures, especially if the person is a boss, teacher or an older person. In the United States, generally people feel free to call one another by first names. Discussion: Can you think of some ways your culture is different from the American culture in acceptable levels of assertiveness? What assertive behaviors in the United States are considered rude or aggressive in your country? CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 7
  • 8. Assertiveness in the Workplace Post-Test Decide if the following statements are true or false, and mark T or F in the blanks. 1. _____Assertiveness and aggressiveness mean the same thing. 2. _____ In the American workplace, you should never be assertive when talking to your supervisor or coworkers. 3. _____ Acceptable levels of assertiveness are different in every culture. 4. _____Generally, assertiveness is more acceptable in men than women in the United States. 5. _____Telling your supervisor your idea about how to improve a work process is an example of assertive behavior. 6. _____Respecting other people’s point of view is an important part of learning to be more assertive. 7. _____Telling someone to shut up is an example of assertive behavior. 8. _____Asking someone to turn down their radio is an example of aggressive behavior. 9. _____If you don’t speak up at work, you can feel depressed, tired and resentful. CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 8
  • 9. Evaluation Assertiveness in the Workplace 1. What was the most useful thing you learned in this class? 2. Do you understand assertiveness in the American workplace better now? How? 3. Do you feel you understand how differences in culture and language can create problems in the workplace? 4. Do you have some ideas for how you will be more assertive at work now? If so, what will you do? 5. Is there anything you would add or change in this class to make it better? 6. Other comments about this class: CCC/ESL/Assertiveness/Rev. 1 March 2009 9