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How to Learn Assertiveness and Confidence in the Workplace

Assertiveness and confidence go hand-in-hand in boosting your self-esteem and credibility at work. One of the pitfalls in building your assertiveness skills is understanding the difference between being firm in your convictions and being too forceful in speaking your mind. By watching people who’ve mastered the skill of speaking up, you can feel more comfortable making your point at meetings and during difficult conversations with your co-workers.

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Knowing the Audience

Sometimes, it’s better to be a quiet observer than a vocal team member. “Pick and choose your battles,” says Teri Wheeler, senior manager of talent acquisition for World Fuel Services in Miami, Florida. “Speak up when you have something to say, not just to hear your own voice.” She recalls working on an acquisition integration project and holding back on her remarks because it was more valuable for her to gather facts. She also recalls watching a more senior committee member speaking only when her feedback was relevant. It became clear the woman held the most authority and respect in the room despite her soft demeanor. “That quiet assertive leadership can be more effective and more powerful, because you can build trust,” Wheeler said of the learning experience. Choosing your battles means analyzing your audience so you can gauge when your comments add value or when you might come across as talking for the sake of talking.

Mentor Opportunities

Look closely at the leaders within your organization who demonstrate the right blend of poise and assertiveness. Watch how they approach difficult moments, and start emulating their behaviors. Ask a manager to coach you on becoming more self-assured, says Wheeler. As more women move into senior leadership roles, you’ll most likely have contact with several women who’ve learned the fine art of speaking confidently without being labeled as pushy. Find someone you admire, and ask for their guidance in how to step out of your comfort zone, says Wheeler. A mentor relationship allows a more seasoned professional to give you opportunities to speak before small groups or to be assigned to projects that offer greater visibility in your workplace. Wheeler also suggests that you'll be able to study some of their tactics to control any nervousness about public speaking and handling tough audiences.

Owning Emotions

When you feel yourself boiling over at work, always exude diplomacy and think before you speak, suggests WomensHealthMag.com. The act of maintaining your professionalism, and controlling your emotions, will help you speak up for yourself without losing your credibility. “There’s a time and a place to express anger and rustle papers, but it can’t be all the time,” says Wheeler. She’s watched colleagues sabotage careers by losing their tempers with peers, customers or even a jammed photocopier. Learning to assert yourself means expressing your anger calmly and with facts so you don’t get labeled as someone prone to outbursts. Organizations can be more forgiving toward employees when they make work-related errors than when they erupt in outrage and demonstrate that they can’t control their emotions, says Wheeler.

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Team Building

As you develop more assertiveness and confidence, your peers may start looking at you as a role model. Step up to this challenge, and offer to coach co-workers who also struggle with finding their voice, says Wheeler. Unfortunately, women often become stereotyped as difficult when they flex their assertiveness at work. “We need to break that, and help each other,” says Wheeler. Share feedback and some of your own struggles and insights with the other women in your office, especially new hires and younger colleagues, she adds. Wheeler also suggests that praise can go a long way in helping anyone bolster their credibility and self -confidence, so be generous with positive feedback toward your office mates who are trying to learn assertiveness.

Photo via Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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