Choosing And Using Assertiveness

In the trades, life is easier if you can communicate clearly with others. Heck, ALL OF LIFE is easier when you can communicate clearly with others!  And communicating assertively has pretty much become my new daily mantra.

What is assertiveness?  An honest, direct, and appropriate expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, beliefs and needs without undue anxiety.

Let me detail about how I came to this definition.

I am a new journeywoman. I am so green, I still work with the same guys that I was training under and we are still working out the power dynamics involved with my new sense of accomplishment. Once I officially became a ticketed journeyed electrician, I had imagined I would suddenly get the respect of my co-workers. When this did not happen, I realized I had to find a new approach to sharing jobs with these guys.

As an apprentice, I often would let people explain things to me I already knew, as I politely nodded and smiled.  I would often let people show me how to do things I wanted to figure out on my own. I would think: this is the time for me to be learning, so have patience, and once I am journeyed they will let me have my own space.  

Unfortunately, I was wrong. What I could have been doing this whole time was being assertive.  When someone would assign me a task, I did not need to ask permission, dismiss my own needs to get it done, apologise for any small mistake that wasn’t really my fault, put myself down in comparison to others to be nice. Nope.  On the flip side, when I spoke overly aggressively, I was also received with frustration.  Speaking sarcastically, using emotionally charged language to fuel a conflict rather than control it, stating opinions as though they are facts. Nope. That was not a good way to go either.

It has recently come to my attention that the best way to communicate with all the lovely people in my life is to just be assertive.  When I deliver a sentence that is well composed, logical, not too wordy and calm, I feel confident and I feel heard. I know I am heard because I am also hearing what the person or people I am communicating with are saying and we are working together to meet a common goal.

Some of you might find it interesting to try out an online assertiveness assessment, to see where you fit along the assertive to none-assertive scale (none-assertive would include passive or aggressive  forms of communication), so you can judge what areas you need to work on.

When I did one of these assessments, it was no big surprise I came out more along the passive side. I’m more likely to put someone else’s needs and feeling ahead of my own, tending to go along with things for a quiet life.

I’ve struggled with the idea of what it means to be assertive.  If you’re too pushy for your own way you get called a bitch. If you’re too passive people just walk all over you.  If you cannot clearly express what you want to express people stop listening to you.

I even thought I couldn’t be assertive if I wasn’t confident in myself.  But then I found out, being assertive would make me confident.  I have found that the more I practice assertiveness, the more my self confidence grows, respect builds, and I feel empowered to act and speak appropriately and honestly.  The hardest part was figuring out what I want in each situation. Once I have figured out what I want (and I don’t mean how to get whatever I want, but I mean what common goal am I shooting for with the person I am working with sort of thing), I have usually already thought about how I will relay that information to another person and then I go ahead and do that.

Tips On Assertive Communication:

  1. Get to the point, say what you mean, practice positive body language/ eye contact.
  2. Practice really hearing the person’s response. Face the person and make direct eye contact.
  3.  The goal is to have direct clear expression, balanced with responsive listening.
  4. Put your own ego aside, and set up a dialogue opportunity for your co-worker to do so as well. I’ve started to give some co-workers a little pep talk when we start working together to set the mood for our projects. It’s usually something to the effect of; we are both electricians here, of equal skill and intelligence, working together to achieve a common goal (the goal being the job). How can we effectively achieve our goal together..? Sometimes I need to go so far as to explain that they are to view me professionally as an electrician, not as a wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter or whatever they think a woman should be in their life.
  5. You can’t help how you are received, and sometimes it’s clearly the other guys problems and hang-ups.  If all attempts to rationally meet someone halfway is sabotaged by the person, it might be time to take it to the next level and ask a supervisor to mediate between you or request to work with someone else.  I was working with a guy who didn’t appreciate when I would disagree with his clearly misinformed and incorrect directions.  He was receiving what I was saying as a threat or a challenge, not as an attempt to do the job up to code, properly and efficiently.  It was frustrating to us both because he had more years experience on the job and assumed superiority, but was improperly doing installs and too ignorant to ask questions to get necessary information.  It got pretty tense between us when he stated that he was in charge here, and I replied that were were both responsible for our own actions as journeyed electricians.  I was relieved when he immediately called our supervisor and asked him to mediate between us.  I was also relieved when our supervisor sat us down, let us both say our sides, and then assured us that neither of us were in charge, in fact we were working under our foremans FSR.  He required us to meet code and we were responsible under our own tickets to meet those standards.  In short, my co-worker was having a power trip, and the supervisor could see that.  It seems to have sorted itself out since then,  but geeze was that guy surprised at the results of that mediation.

Since that incident, I have thought a lot about how I might handle a situation like that in the future. Sometimes there’s things that bug you that you need to address but you’re not sure how. Heres some tips on being assertive in those tough conversations, which should get you the best possible outcome in the conversation.

Four Steps For An Assertive Conversation

1- Once you’ve decided you need to have a conversation, start the conversation by describing the other person’s behaviour objectively, using concrete terms, being specific in time/place/action and not guessing the other person’s motives. Don’t describe your emotional reaction to it or use generalized  ‘all the time’ descriptions.

Heres some samples:

‘I see that…’

‘Last Tuesday I noticed…’

‘During our last meeting…’

‘It appears that..’

‘This week I see that you have been…’

2- Then, acknowledge and express your feelings and concerns calmly. State feelings positively as related to your goal. Direct yourself to the specific, problem behaviour.  Don’t use put-downs or deny your feelings, or attack the character of the person.

Heres some samples:

‘I’m concerned that…’

‘There might be a problem if…’

‘I am not comfortable with…’

‘It will not work if…’

‘I am worried…’

3- Then, specify what you are asking, such as a change in behaviour. Specify the concrete actions you want stopped or performed. Specify what behaviour you are willing to change to make the agreement. Don’t just imply you’d like a change, ask for it. But don’t ask for changes to character traits or qualities. Consider a mutual change.

Heres some samples:

‘I’d like to see you/us…’

‘It would be helpful if…’

‘Why don’t we…’

‘We need…’

‘Let’s work towards…’

4- To finish up, reaffirm the others ability to make the change. End on a positive note, check for agreement. Ask a question to engage/ confirm.

Heres some samples:

‘I am sure you can….’

‘I trust that….’

‘I am confident that…’

‘I know that you/we can…’


Remember: be direct ( state your point clearly), be brief (less is more), and provide reasons (fact over opinion).

I hope some of you find these tips helpful or in the very least interesting, and good luck out there! Let me know how it goes 🙂



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