How many times are assistants told to be more assertive? It seems to me the word is everywhere we look, it is on our job descriptions, it is in our objectives and there are a ton of courses solely dedicated to making assistants more assertive. It seems we must constantly assert ourselves or we are total failures at the job!

In my first PA role I was told I could be more assertive and went on a number of courses, one of which involved the class throwing a ball around the room while shouting out ‘no’ as assertively as possible and another which saw me talking to a sock puppet about my need to please others. So although the courses made me assertive enough to say ‘no’ to anymore assertiveness courses they didn’t really help me assert myself at work.

I think it is hard for assistants to be really assertive, especially when we want to be helpful, supportive and take a flexible approach with our work. Also I’m not 100% sure what our managers  even mean when they say they want us to be assertive, do they want us to be assertive with them and push back whenever we need to? Are we supposed to aggressively protect our managers at all time or be flexible as and when the situation demands an assertive response? What do they actually want from us? In this post I think it is worth exploring what assertiveness means and how it applies to the role of the assistant.

Having an awareness of your personal rights

This will differ from individual to individual but for me I think it is being aware of your own rights but also the rights you have as an assistant. Sometimes it can be difficult if you feel your role is not taken seriously or you are seen as non-assertive because you are an assistant. As I’ve said before assistants have to own their role and they have to see themselves as more than ‘just’ an assistant. Being seen as assertive will grow once an assistant firstly acknowledges their own rights and then really values them. Self-esteem is crucial.

Not being overly aggressive

Or too passive. Assertiveness is that nice place in the middle where the two communication styles live happily together. Assistants love to be behind the scenes making everything happen and ensuring everything runs smoothly so it can be easy to fall into the trap of acting passively and giving in easily to other’s demands without pushing back, especially if we genuinely want to help and be supportive. As gatekeepers it can be difficult for us not to act aggressively when someone really wants to get in front of our executive and is trying to bypass us. So how do we maintain a healthy balance? Well it is firstly respecting everyone’s feelings including our own and trying to be open and honest. Plan what you are going to say when you need to be assertive and while delivering the message monitor your tone of voice and your body language, both of which should be relaxed and consistent.

Being able to defend your own boundaries

I was told that I have the ‘disease to please’ (who knew!) I think it might be an epidemic amongst assistants, as a large number of us joined the profession because we like to support others. It can be hard for assistants to put ourselves first and respect our own boundaries. It can hard to say no to work when we are there to help others. BUT we must must must learn to defend ourselves and we must be assertive in this, it is so important for assistants. If you have been asked to do something that you either don’t feel comfortable with or you simply do not have the time or the capacity tell the individual no but come prepared with reasons why you can’t do it and also offer a different solution if you can. As hard as it is don’t feel guilty because you have made yourself the priority for a change.

Easily communicating your personal opinions and feelings

Communicating how you feel at work is really hard and can be quite daunting if you are an assistant working for a senior executive. Being assertive with your opinions will really help your manager in the long run so it is well worth considering. They need someone they can trust and rely on and that will only come if you are open and honest with all of your opinions (well to a point anyway!)

Prepare to be assertive

We don’t have to be assertive every second of the day so that is why we are not always so good at it. When the need arises make sure you prepare what you are going to say, how you want to appear and what tone you want to take and then practice, practice practice! Think about what is going to happen after you’ve been assertive too, are they going to push-back? If so what will you do then? If you are successfully assertive on one occasion learn from that experience and put it into practice again. The same result should be achieved.

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