New Assistants / Guide for Assistants who are new to the role / Key Soft Skills for New Assistants

Chapter Two

Key Soft Skills for New Assistants

This chapter will cover all of the soft skills, key competencies, and strengths that assistants need to create a successful mindset.

Having the right mindset is a crucial factor in succeeding as an Assistant. To give yourself the best chance of success, it’s essential to develop specific skills and competencies that can help you face any challenges that might come your way.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a significant chapter of the guide. We cover a lot of critical competencies that will help you succeed in the role. So take your time with this chapter. If you have to return to the content a few times to work through the chapter and implement some suggestions, that is an excellent way to embed your learning.

Here is what we are going to cover:

Stepping outside your comfort zone

A crucial aspect of being an Assistant is organising everything backstage so others can shine.

We are so used to supporting roles that we are often stuck in a bit of a rut with our own personal and professional development. I wonder if it stops us from putting ourselves forward and grabbing the spotlight now and again. It reaches a certain point in an Assistant’s career when we know the role well and sit comfortably inside our comfort zone.

The problem is that inside your comfort zone, you can disengage from any challenge and find yourself unmotivated and bored.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ve worked hard on getting to a point where you are comfortable, but if you feel like something is missing. Leave your comfort zone if you want to do more and seek more challenging work.

Here is why.

We grow professionally and personally if we do things that scare us. Set yourself a goal, something that will stretch you. Please write it down, define what you want to achieve and do it!

We get to know what we enjoy in life. If we don’t try new things, we may never know what hidden skills we have, what we are good at, and what makes us happy!

I bet the last time you felt giddy with happiness. You were at least a little outside your comfort zone!

We will answer those pesky “what if” questions that often arise and come of nothing with actual objective evidence of action.

You don’t know what you are missing until you try it!

Finishing something we initially fear will result in a real sense of achievement.

The first time I got up on stage and spoke to an audience about Practically Perfect PA, I was so scared I wanted the ground to swallow me whole.

But I did it.

I keep doing it, and when I get a round of applause at the end of my presentation, I feel like I have achieved something because I am so far removed from my comfort zone.

Breaking habits are a good thing. Of course, stepping out of our comfort zone might introduce new practices, but at least they are unique!

There is no better way to grow than doing the things that cause fear. Breaking that barrier will always lead to growth and a new understanding of what you can do.

It is easy to get bored in a comfort zone; you will miss adventure and excitement if you stay where you are. Remember that each time you hit a milestone, you will have many memories, experiences and knowledge to pull from the next time you encounter another challenge.

It is much easier to say yes to more exciting work when you have put yourself out there.

Once you’ve pushed yourself forward, you never know who is looking and trust me, some people are doing the work you are scared to put yourself forward for, with much less skill and talent than you. You’ve got this. Go for it!

Ultimately, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, so even if we move slightly outside our little box, it is one step away from always doing what we still do, which isn’t good! But, after you leap, you will stand taller, have more confidence, and feel pride. All good things!

Don’t play small!

The possibilities for Assistants are endless, and you should never play small because of what you do in your career. You are not inadequate, so never play small in your life. Diana Ross once said, “You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.”

Confidence is key for Assistants

Low self-esteem or confidence issues can be a real challenge in life, particularly in the office and for assistants. We have a difficult job, and the role becomes much more complicated if we cannot stand up for ourselves. It can lead to feeling unchallenged, unappreciated and, more importantly, managed ineffectively by your Executive.

Although not all of us are blessed with unwavering self-confidence (I certainly am not!) There are areas within the role that every assistant should feel comfortable with and have confidence in their abilities.

Here are my top three:


The skills you have developed over the years are unique and make you stand out in your organisation’s role.

These are the things that you are good at! Confidence comes from knowing what you are good at. It could be, for example, that you are super organised and calm under pressure. You could get on well with people and build rapport quickly. It could be related to your IT skills or ability to speak multiple languages.

Whatever it is – you must be proud and confident in the skills you have developed. These skills make you a fantastic Assistant.

Key tasks

There are specific tasks that assistants need to be confident in executing – it goes without saying.

From my experience, I had to know how to manage diaries and emails, organise travel, work with Microsoft Office and be a strong gatekeeper for my Executive. I had to be confident in these tasks and know I could do them well.

Otherwise, I would not be good at my job. I think this is the same for every assistant. If you are unsure of your abilities in these areas, it can lead to problems with your Executive.

For example, suppose you are not 100% confident that you can move meetings and reschedule their diary without asking them first (even if they have told you they are happy for you to manage their diary). In that case, they will start to doubt your abilities, move their meetings around, and cancel things – trust me. This leads to chaos!

Communicating with senior members of the staff

This is a tricky one.

Speaking to senior staff members can be daunting, but they will be if your Executive is a board-level Director. Therefore you will have to work and communicate with other senior Executives practically every day.

You may find these Executives challenging to talk to, they may be unapproachable, and they may be (quite frankly) hard going. But, you must be confident to deal with them on your Executive’s behalf.

You will have to be able to speak to them about meetings, deadlines, and important information, and you will have to make small talk with them – especially when they are hanging around outside your Executive’s office!

If you don’t feel confident dealing with these types, you must push yourself out of your comfort zone. However, if it is urgent, rather than waiting to speak to their assistant, pick up the phone and dial them directly. If it helps, plan what you will say first (write it down to give you a bit of a safety blanket).

Once you have pushed yourself to speak over the phone, visit their office. It is much easier to communicate with senior executives if they know who you are and have built a little rapport with them.

How do you gain confidence?

If you feel unconfident in any skills or tasks essential within the Assistant role, identifying these and attending a training course or learning online is worth remembering. Think about the areas where you lack confidence and if it is affecting your performance.

You may be good at covering up any confidence issues – which is acceptable in the short term. Still, it is much easier in the long term if you spend a little time building your knowledge in these areas, pushing yourself to step outside your comfort zone and increasing your confidence.

Five tips on how to feel confident when you really don’t

  1. Talk yourself into confidence. I do this a lot. I talk to myself (mostly in my head but sometimes out loud, too!) and tell myself I have this. I can do this. I am not nervous; I am excited. I have the experience, and I know to do this. These validations help me reframe my nerves so that they don’t stop me from doing what I must do even though I am nervous. Talking to myself also boosts my confidence because I am overcoming any negative thoughts that might be getting in the way.
  1. Think about your body language. A lot of research has been conducted on body language and confidence. Changing your posture can boost confidence (check out Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on Power Posing). It can also help you hide any lack of trust from other people. So when you need to appear confident, stand tall, head high, shoulders back and off you go! A five-minute power pose also helps so much!
  1. Put yourself in their shoes. This is another technique I use to help manage any negative thoughts I have. When I do something that requires me to be brave, have confidence, and be vulnerable in front of people, I often ask myself, what are they thinking right now? What is going through their mind? Usually, I answer that with, what would I think if I was them? It certainly wouldn’t be anything negative. It would be positive because people are usually friendly and respect others who get up and step outside their comfort zone. Also, if you frame it to get people on your side, they are with you, not against you. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for just a while makes you realise that they are not holding you back – you are!
  1. Visualise the result. This is my all-time favourite trick to get through challenging scenarios that take me way out of my comfort zone. I visualise the result. For example, if it is public speaking, I imagine clapping at the end of the presentation and walking off the stage. If it is an event I have worked hard on, I plan something rewarding after it and visualise feeling happy doing the reward thing I have given myself as a treat. I envision celebrating and the feeling of satisfaction. If I must participate in a difficult conversation, I visualise the result again. I think about why I have to have that conversation, what I want to get out of it and what happens when I get what I want (I might not get what I wish, but visualising the result gives me the confidence to have the awkward conversation – to start the process).
  1. Be prepared. My lack of confidence raised its ugly head when I was unprepared. This is ten times worse when spontaneous and stepping outside your comfort zone. So if you know, you will be doing something that requires you to be confident and brave. Prepare!! Preparation does help with your confidence because you have the knowledge, skills and expertise to back you up, and your brain will know you are prepared!

Effective Communication

Before attempting any communication, think about what you are trying to convey.

Organise this in your mind and stick to the key points. Then, if you need to, write these key points down so that you can refer back if the topic runs away from you.

This should be used in any form of communication, from emailing someone to meeting them face-to-face.

Be clear and articulate.

Maintain good eye contact and avoid mumbling. If you have lost your train of thought, it is best to stop talking until you can remember your point.

Listening is equally as essential as speaking. You should listen to what the other person is saying and try not to interrupt them.

Be aware of how you come across to others.

This includes your approach, tone of voice and body language. How we think and feel affects our communication style, so try to remain positive even if you are in the worst mood imaginable!

We all have difficulties at work occasionally, but we try to stay upbeat and offer solutions rather than just having a general moan.

It is also essential to be aware of other people’s communication styles, particularly for Assistants, as we deal with all types of people, from clients to senior staff members.

Knowing how to adjust the way we communicate depending on the person we are speaking to is essential.

Know how to communicate with your key stakeholders (by stakeholders, I mean those you deal with regularly and influence your role in the company).

Think about how much of an impact these people have on your day-to-day work, how frequently you should communicate with them and which communication channel will be the most effective. I always find it helpful to have a communication plan, mainly if I am working on a new project or with colleagues I have not met before.

It isn’t a grand document, merely a note detailing how these people prefer to communicate. For example, do they always call me even if I have only emailed them, or do they only ever email? Do they like face-to-face meetings, or are they happy to receive a regular email update?

Once I know how they like to communicate, I can adjust my style to work effectively together. Having a small plan also means you do not become reliant on one communication channel. For example, I can overuse emails because they are quick and easy to ping out to everyone, but if I am aware that I work with someone who prefers face-to-face communication, I force myself to go and speak to them.

If you can think about the best way to get your point across to the audience you are addressing, you effectively communicate, which I am sure all Assistants can do.

Checklist for Meeting Planning

Checklist for Meeting Planning

This checklist will help streamline planning for every meeting.

SMART objectives and goal-setting template for Assistants

Objective and Goal Setting Bundle

Ace your next preview with this fantastic bundle of SMART objectives and goal-setting templates.

Working on your own initiative and being proactive as an Assistant

Assistants need to be proactive to be noticed and rewarded within the workplace.

Proactivity, showing initiative and demonstrating your worth should eventually pay off with promotions and recognition. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy (t can be tricky!), and knowing where to start can be pretty challenging.

How do you, as an Assistant, show initiative?

Where do you even begin?

A few areas within the role allow assistants to show initiative, and here they are…

Managing your Executive’s time

Managing your Executive’s time is a core requirement and an excellent way for Assistants to show initiative. I love this description of what Assistants should concentrate on when managing their Executive’s time:

I think a successful Assistant serves as a first line of contact or liaison with the rest of the staff and the client. Your supervisor, manager, or CEO can be a very busy person and their time should be protected from interruptions, not because they are too important but simply because they can provide a better response if they are prepared for the request or inquiry that is coming through. A good Assistant should be able to handle most requests in a way that not only gives the person the information or time they are requesting but also pulls pieces together so the manager or CEO can provide the best response.

Assistants can save unwanted intrusions on their Executive’s time and act as a first response on issues. Assistants can proactively package all the information they receive throughout the day and present it to their Executive during their one-to-one meetings.

Simple administrative tasks

Again this is a core requirement for any Assistant.

Take ownership of the simple administrative tasks, make improvements where possible, and never let your boss do any of this. If you can demonstrate that you have complete control over the essential elements of the role, there is a greater chance of you being asked to take on additional and more exciting work.

Do your homework

Business acumen is essential for assistants and a great area to show initiative. If you are current on office politics, you can feed this back to your boss.

If you are aware of new policies coming into practice, you can help transition your Executive and the rest of your department into the process. If you know of any events or news that might affect your manager, again, you can present the information in a way that will benefit them.

This doesn’t take any input from your manager, yet it will benefit them enormously.

Work with your colleagues

Another way to demonstrate initiative is to volunteer for things, take on extra work, and always help your colleagues. This approach can be exhausting. But, it will get you in front of people that can help your career, and this approach will certainly show your Executive that you can work on your initiative.

Just remember. Don’t say yes to every request.

Taking the initiative and being curious at work

Three exceptionally experienced Executive Assistants talk about how to take the initiative at work to increase their career options as Executive Assistants.

Taking the initiative has led our three panellists to a more enjoyable and fulfilling career and allowed their organisation to tap their skills fully.

In this session chaired by Nicky Christmas, former EA and now Editor & Founder of Practically Perfect PA, you will find practical ideas on becoming a more proactive personal assistant or executive assistant.

This brilliant session was recorded at Europe’s largest event for Assistants, the Future Assistant European Summit.

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Discretion at work for Assistants

Look at any job description for Assistants, and you will see the word discretion. It is a crucial skill for Assistants and something we must practice daily.

One slip and you risk jeopardising your reputation and all the hard work you have put into building the relationship with your Executive.

So with that being said, let’s look at the discretion at work for Assistants and display trust in every aspect of their role.

People want to know what you know

This is important to understand.

In any business, information is currency, and people want to be in the loop. So every one of your colleagues will know that you are privy to information they do not have, and in some cases, they will try to get that information from you.

It is your job to be discreet and keep your Executive’s confidence, so how do you do that?

Lead by example

This is an excellent place to start.

Suppose your colleagues are sharing office gossip. Work out quickly if it is harmless or should be avoided. Here is something I wrote on this subject a few years ago:

It can be difficult not to get involved in gossip and general office banter, it is fun, and it makes the day go quickly. I think some gossip can be harmless and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that you shy away from joining in. What I would suggest is that you identify harmless gossip, such as what happened in the pub after work or sharing in a joke about a member of the team. Once you have defined the general good-natured discussions, you can quickly see when the banter turns into gossip that you should well avoid. For example, this could be people discussing other members of staff that aren’t there to answer for themselves, or events that are taking place in the company that influence jobs and or pay. If you make a conscious choice not to get involved in these types of conversations, your colleagues will notice and probably avoid discussing it with you further. Another suggestion is not to start any of this type of gossip, no matter how harmless you think it might be. If you initiate anything, people will assume you are happy to part with other possibly more sensitive information at a later point.

Use your judgement

We are privy to much detail and information about the business and everyone working with us. In many cases, executives rely on their Assistants to disseminate this information using their judgment. To do this effectively, first, you must know the business inside and out.

You must understand what is happening, who it will affect, and how your Executive wants you to deal with the detail. If you do not feel comfortable sharing some aspects but not others or are not sure of the tone you should take, do not say anything. Wait until your Executive is available to find out what messages you can share with your colleagues.

Otherwise, use your judgement. Your Executive trusts you to act on their behalf, do so wisely.

We are becoming more transparent at work

And that is a good thing; working in an environment where you feel like your colleagues are your friends, you know your Executive’s family and what they like to do outside of work.

We spend so much time at work that feeling supported and at ease is fantastic. But, here comes the but! As an Assistant, you really should not be an open book.

Yes, for sure, share your personal life, but you also need to maintain the professionalism of your position.

You are privileged to have access to so much information, and the only way you will excel in the role is to keep all of that detail private and confidential.

Dealing with criticism at work

Assistants deal with many high-level tasks that mean something to the business. We operate in a highly pressured environment, and if we make mistakes, they tend to matter.

So, trying not to take things too personally is hard.

If you also think about it, we work with people under much pressure who can quickly relieve their stress and anxieties. I know the feeling well – when you start to flush, and your body goes all tingly, and you think to yourself, ‘did they just say that to me!?’ and then you have to try hard not to react. It is challenging, but growing a thick skin, rolling with the punches and not taking things too personally will hold you in good stead as an Assistant. So here are a few tricks I’ve used to develop resilience.

Look at the bigger picture – what does it mean to you?

This has always been my first port of call when dealing with stressful situations. Over the years, I’ve worked in some horrible environments (customer service operator in a call centre and waitress spring to mind). Whenever I had to deal with a customer who was not happy, I immediately thought of the bigger picture.

They want to vent.

It is making them better, and are you bothered by this outburst? No? So don’t let it bother you because I get to go home and forget about this person and their problem!

I took this approach into my Assistant roles. I looked at the bigger picture in every situation and asked myself what it meant. So, for example, if someone spoke to me severely, but that was unusual for them, I’d let it slide, knowing they would probably apologise later and explain they were having a bad day.

If someone always spoke badly to me, I’d address it because that behaviour is unacceptable. Work out what is important to you and go from there. Remember, it is their bad day, not yours!

Keep busy with work that matters

When you feel things are not going how you want them to, it is always worth focusing on the work that keeps you busy, makes you happy, and is essential to the business. In this space, you can tell yourself that you are worthy and that what you do in the organisation matters.

Confidence is such a great skill to develop for Assistants because it gives you a shield when other people are trying to hurt or upset you. Having faith in what you do and knowing what you do matters will help you be more resilient.

Maintain a positive outlook

If you have received some negative feedback, always try to maintain a positive outlook. Even if you think the feedback is unfair, it is worth listening to what they say and taking any actions necessary to up-skill or improve in the role. If you try hard, you can turn any negative into a positive.

The best way to do this is to listen to the entire feedback without interrupting and remain calm. Then, when they have finished, ask for specific examples of the behaviour so that you don’t repeat the mistakes and then say, ‘ I hear you; I’ll do better next time’. Afterwards, you can leave the office and vent to your friends and family!

Seek out your network

If you have a strong network in your office, this is the place to go when you need a little motivation and back-rubbing. This is where a vast Assistant network comes into play because we all understand how demanding the role is and how much pressure we put on our shoulders.

When you feel something personally at work, you should always have someone to talk to, even your friends and family (they must listen!). Sometimes you need that affirmation that you are doing a good job!

You are not your job

This is my last point. When you are being criticised, remind yourself that your work is being criticised, not you personally. You are fantastic, inside work and outside work, and nobody can take that away from you. Give yourself some perspective.

You are not a brain surgeon. You are not saving lives (I don’t think, anyway!). You are not pulling people out of burning buildings, so although your job is essential, it is not REALLY important.

Perspective will help you build your resilience and not take things too personally.

I always want to make this point.

It is up to you what environment you work in. If you feel like you are continually being criticised unfairly or your Executive is continuously making you feel uncomfortable and unhappy or misbehaving, this is very different. You should address the situation because it is not on.

You don’t have to work in a toxic environment.

Building resilience

What does resilience mean?

So I think this is an excellent place to start. I think the best description I have found for resilience at work is from the Forbes website:

Resilience means anticipating risks and feeling comfortable with change. Resilience involves limiting damage during turbulent times, absorbing hard knocks, regrouping and bouncing back when the worst happens. It’s the ability to start feeling better and bolster your confidence after a setback. It’s remaining engaged in the midst of shifting challenge.

This perfectly sums up the skill to me and shows why it is vital for assistants to have resilience. We are constantly faced with changing and challenging situations.

We have to rely on our self-confidence to bounce back from worst-case scenarios, and more often than not, we will be asked to help when colleagues want to limit damages (or should I say we are asked to clear up the whole sorry mess!)

Most Assistants are resilient; it seems somewhat ingrained, but like any soft skill, resilience can be enhanced. Let’s have a look at a few areas that can improve strength.


I bang on about communication a lot, don’t I!?! It is, for me, the key to being a successful assistant and although a critical skill in its own right is also the centre of every other aspect of the role.

As the description said, resilience is about anticipating risk – this will only come when you can freely communicate with your Executives. If the challenges are coming from your Exec, having an open dialogue will always be helpful to find out what pressures they are under and what you can do to help.

Business Acumen

Another one of my favs! If you know any issues that might crop up within the organisation, you will be better prepared for any stress.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say! When challenges arise, your business acumen will be helpful when dealing with the issues.

You will appear engaged and know to handle a crisis.


Having a solid internal network in your organisation and with other assistants, clients, and suppliers is crucial these days.

It comes into its own when you are in crisis mode. Having a network to fall back on when something goes wrong is helpful.

See challenges as opportunities

I think the most resilient people are also optimists. Of course, it helps if you can see challenges as opportunities which I know is easier said than done!

Once the crisis is over, it is always worth sitting down with your Executive and looking at how the challenge was handled, how you reacted, and what you could do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Developing diplomacy and tact

Assistants have to possess several soft or interpersonal skills. Diplomacy (or, at the very least, tact) is an absolute must-have.

In my mind, diplomacy is ‘the art of dealing with people sensitively and tactfully.’

It is the ability to communicate with people using an approach that considers their feelings and potential reaction to the situation. This skill allows assistants to find common ground with every person at every business level. For these reasons, it is sooooo helpful if assistants can be diplomatic.

But, let’s face it, diplomacy and tact are not natural skills to master – the world would be much better if everyone were diplomatic! Sometimes it can be challenging to find common ground or to be able to communicate with someone that is demanding.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you be diplomatic in those high-pressure situations we often face as assistants.

Think before you speak.

Oh, how annoying! This is easier said than done, isn’t it!? When a senior manager wants time in your Executive’s jam-packed diary and won’t take no for an answer, it can be pretty challenging to take a step back and think about what you will say.

But this is where diplomacy skills come in very, very handy.

Just take a few seconds to think about where this person is coming from (they are probably stressed on a tight deadline and need a decision from your Exec before completing their work) and adjust what you will say according.

Get to know people

Professional diplomats are also professional networks (they have the best parties). They get to know people, and so should assistants. Understanding what is happening around you, what pressures people are facing and having a general sense of priorities in the workplace will enable you to be more diplomatic in your choices and communications.

Telling everyone about your great promotion while a load of your colleagues have just been made redundant will not make you popular in the office! On the contrary, merely being aware of what will help enhance your diplomacy skills heaps!

Pick your battles

This is a piece of advice I have recently received from a mum of three small children, and it very much applies to assistants as well!

Diplomacy is not just about communicating effectively; it knows when to leave the conflict, get the task done, or stand up for yourself and be heard.

If you decide conflict is inevitable, a few simple tricks ensure you stay on the right side of tact.

  • Keep to the facts
  • Deal with the issue, not the person and the many reasons they annoy you.
  • Decide what you want out of this conflict and what you hope to achieve in the process.
  • Don’t raise your voice.

When you disagree with someone, have the resources to back up your opinion (you might want to do something this way, but I want to do it that way and here is why)

You may think this whole diplomacy thing seems like a lot of extra hassle when you have enough going on. On the other hand, it might seem like going out of your way to be helpful to, well, idiots.

Assistants must be able to communicate with everyone in the high pressured situations. As a gatekeeper, you must mitigate the amount of … yes, I’m going to use that word again… idiots… that get into your Executive’s office. Using our example, if you can either deal with the Senior manager’s request yourself or calm him down before he sees your Executive, you will have saved your boss all that unnecessary hassle.

Much of our time is spent managing relationships; diplomacy skills help that process.

How to stop your personal life from affecting your work

This is a question I have faced many times during my career. Your personal life can affect your work in so many ways; it could be anything from a few late nights that make you feel tired in the office to having natural stress at home that does impact your performance. So how do you stop what is happening at home from interfering with your office persona?

How do you stop your personal life from affecting your work?

Here are some tips if you ever feel less than 100% at work…

Try to use work as a distraction from what is happening at home by really getting stuck in your tasks. If you are not entirely focused on your work, now is an excellent time to do the jobs you have been putting off because they are dull.

Do you have any filing or a load of photocopying to do? Use this time to get those basic tasks out of the way.

If you are not very busy at work, this is the time to get busy. Ask to sit in on meetings or do errands for other staff members, anything to keep your mind off your problems at home.

Concentrating on other things can often cure the little worries you have in your personal life and put things into perspective.

Do talk to your trusted colleagues at work but try to keep this restricted to lunchtime or over a coffee away from the office. It is good to talk through your problems, and they may be able to help you with your work but don’t make this a regular occurrence as you don’t want to be too reliant on your colleagues.

If you are “tired” and by tired, I think you know what I mean (you’ve been socialising a little too much)! Remember, you only have to get through 8 hours at the most. Drink lots of coffee, take regular breaks, go straight home after work and have an early night!

Can you talk to your manager? If so, do. I’ve had times when I’ve needed to speak to my boss and explain why I’m not performing to my best. They had noticed and appreciated my honesty. My manager said I could leave early, get my issues sorted at home, and start again tomorrow. It helped greatly.

Many companies I’ve worked for have offered support through a helpline which covers quite a few issues, from money problems to legal advice to counselling.

I’ve used the hotline a few times, and it does help. Even if the information is generic, it can point you in the right direction.

Plan something beautiful for the weekend ahead, even if it is time spent in your home relaxing. If home is the problem, try to go out or do something that makes you feel relaxed.

Trying to get the most out of your weekend will mean you can feel refreshed once you are back in the office on Monday.

If you need time off work to get your issues resolved, do take the time off you need. Take a personal day, a holiday or phone in sick. Your manager should understand if you need time away from the office urgently.

If they don’t, that says much more about the company’s ethos towards its staff than you!

It is essential to keep your work life and personal life separate, and sometimes this means merely putting on a brave face and getting on with the day.

If you are overwhelmed with your life, try to talk to your manager or HR. If it is not a regular occurrence, your company should understand, help you, and provide excellent support.

Speaking with authority

Here are my ten top tips on talking with power at work:

  1. Remember that Assistants represent their boss always. This is not the case for your colleagues. In any form of communication, try to channel your manager’s authority by using the same tone they take in emails or phone conversations.
  2. Christine Jahnke, a speech coach and the author of The Well-Spoken Woman, said: “Once you are in the room, recognise that you belong there.” This is such good advice for Assistants. There is a reason we are at the meeting, even if we are there to take the minutes. Speaking with authority is mostly believing in your voice and having the confidence to voice an opinion. This is easier said than done, but the first step is to think you belong in that room!
  3. Plan what you are going to say before you say it. Assistants are already well trained in getting information to their bosses in small doses, in-between meetings and on the hoof. So we should be pretty concise and articulate anyway. Planning what you say before you say it will add to your message’s clarity and make you look like you know what you are talking about – the key to speaking with authority!
  4. Take a breath! This is something that I am still working on. I can speak very quickly, so I must work at my pace and remember to breathe! A measured pace when conversing or speaking to a group of people will make you appear controlled and thoughtful.
  5. I often find people who have confidence in their authority rarely flaunt it. I usually try to add humour and personality to my communications, hoping people assume I am confident in my jurisdiction. I find this works as an Executive Assistant in charge of who sees my manager. I know I have the power to decide what meetings he takes and what goes in his diary, so I try to project ease when dealing with these tasks. I think it makes my colleagues and clients connect with me on a level we might not have if I were only articulate and polite. I think it makes me look naturally authoritative regarding diary management.
  6. Speak to your manager about your authority. How much do you have, and how many decisions can you take without their consent? With the power that you have, try to own it! Take pride in your decision-making, think of yourself as the expert in that field and remember that you will be judged on the performance of those tasks.
  7. It is easy to get upset when your authority is being challenged. This will happen at some point in your career as an Assistant – trust me! My best advice is to try your hardest not to let it upset you. Don’t let the person know you are angry or hurt; this will, unfortunately, undermine your authority. When you feel your blood boiling, say that you will take what the other person has said on board and respond later. Then hot-foot it to the privacy of the lady’s room to sort yourself out! We have all done that. I certainly have! As much as you want to be liked at work, the most important thing is that you are respected, so keep checking your emotions and have confidence that your authority in the matter at hand will be enough.
  8. I am terrible for this, but speaking with authority does not come with lots of ‘errrrrr’, ‘ uuummmmm’ or ‘I think’. It also doesn’t help if you fidget or play with your hair. Again, traits that I have – I did have the nickname ‘Bridget the fidget’ growing up! I’m still working on this one, but you will sound more authoritative once you have cracked it!
  9. Don’t try to speak with authority in areas where you have no authority. There is no need to overcompensate. Stick to the tasks and decisions that you know you have control over. Your jurisdiction will undoubtedly be diminished if you are overstepping your boundaries.
  10. The best advice I’ve had about speaking with authority is to remember the power of silence. We have all been in conversations when we have been nervous and tried to fill in as much silence as possible. It does come across as lacking confidence in an obvious way. So instead, you should make your point and then stop talking. A pause before you answer a question is good, too, because confidence in your authority means you are about to say something worth waiting for. Trust me, this works!

Building on the right mindset and developing the right skills will put you in good stead when any challenges arise. Don’t be disheartened if it feels like there’s a lot to take in – with dedication, commitment and patience, you’ll soon be able to call yourself an efficient Assistant.

So, why not challenge yourself by enrolling in the Assistant Essential online course today? This course will provide you with everything you need to become a successful Assistant and ensure that you stand out among your peers – taking your career to the next level!


Next Chapter

The essential tasks for new Assistants
Chapter Three