Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by Lindsay Taylor, Director of Your Excellency Limited. Lindsay is a specialist Administrative Professional Coach and Trainer.

She is a former EA herself with first-hand experience of the role and an appreciation of the diversity and challenges of the profession.

Lindsay delivers our popular Pitman Training exclusive 2-day seminar;
A-Z Executive PA Masterclass’. This workshop is based on her award-winning book the ‘A-Z Pearls of Wisdom for Executive PAs’ and the below blog brings you the first chapter of the book:

“Assertiveness is one of the top asks, wants and needs of the administrative professional” shares Lindsay “Very often you are working with some strong-willed characters in your organisation. It is important that you are able to put forward your opinions and viewpoint. You need to be able to communicate assertively to foster credibility and respect within your team”.

A is for Assertiveness

We’ve all heard of the “fight” or “flight” syndrome – when faced with situations outside of our control our immediate reaction is likely to be one that is either:

  • Aggressive – where we react with verbal / physical aggression, or
  • Passive – where we run away physically or mentally (by burying our heads in the sand or ignoring it).

It’s a primal response that stems way, way back. Imagine yourself now – way, way back in time – let’s say the Stone Age. You’ve spent the morning kitting your cave out with the top of the range stone accessories (carved by your own fair hands) and you’re looking forward to a relaxing evening watching the sunset. So when an intruder approaches your cave (he’s heard of your talent with carving stone accessories and fancies taking something for himself!) your instinctive reaction is likely to be one of two responses – do you: a) pick up the heavy brick club that you keep by your side at all times, wave it high above your head and fight him off or b) take flight out of the back entrance of your cave as fast as your deer-skin-clad little feet will take you (flight)? Quite simply, in easy-cave-like-primal-terms, that’s what the fight or flight response is.

In the work place the “fight / aggressive” or “flight / passive” responses are inappropriate, ineffective and with obvious negative implications to you and your team. Neither response will win you the respect of your team members or ensure you are considered a valued professional. Recognising when the primal fight / flight reaction could potentially take hold is crucial for your success. Understanding that you have a choice over your reactions is paramount – as is the knowledge that the best choice available to you is “assertiveness”.

What is “assertiveness”? For me, it’s about standing up for what you think, for what you believe in – and at the same time respecting the fact that not everyone will think the same as you do. People have different perspectives – everyone “ticks” differently and we are all unique in the way we are made-up. This is what makes the world such an exciting place to be. This is what makes the world such a challenging place to be.

How do we respond and communicate assertively? Based on the research of former Harvard Professor Albert Mehrabian, face-to-face communication when sharing our thoughts and feelings can be broken down into three areas – 1) the words that we speak 2) the tone that we use and 3) the body language that we use. The words that we speak account for 7% importance in getting our message across, the tone for 38% and the body language for 55%.

If we use Mehrabian’s research in terms of responding assertively then it is clear that we need to pay attention to how we deliver our assertive message as well as the actual words and verbage we use. I am an advocate of the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail” – so where possible take time to plan your assertive response. You can think about your response in terms of the 3 Mehrabian’s areas with the following “checklists”:

Assertive Words:

  • Be open, honest and to the point.
  • Use “I” statements – this is about your view.
  • Share your feelings – take ownership of the fact that we are emotional beings. Say “I feel….” and claim the emotion you are feeling.
  • Acknowledge your own rights, wants and needs.
  • Ask questions of others to find out their wants and needs.
  • Empathise with the other person’s views and respect the fact that people are different and have different views. 
  • Focus on problem solving, moving forward and thinking about the future. The ideal outcome for any assertive response is for a win-win situation. Propose a way forward and then “bounce” this back to your recipient asking them what they think.

Assertive Tone

  • Think about how you say the words.
  • Speak the meaning, not just the words.
  • Think about the timing of your response – put your own view forward and allow others to have their say.
  • Ensure your breathing is relaxed and steady.
  • Use evenly spaced words.
  • Speak at an even pace.
  • Emphasise key words.

Assertive Body Language

  • Ensure your eye contact is direct, relaxed and gentle.
  • Deliver your message at the same eye level to your recipient(s).
  • Keep your posture upright and balanced (“plant” your feet firmly on the ground – so you feel truly “grounded”).
  • Ensure you face the other person and at the same time respect their personal space.
  • Ensure your gestures are balanced and open.
  • Ensure your facial expression is open and pleasant.

Assertiveness Aura

In addition I believe assertiveness is at its most powerful when you achieve an Assertiveness Aura – a state of being, a presence, an aura that comes from your belief in yourself – the belief that you are entitled to be assertive, that your opinion is valued and deserves the respect of others.

The ‘A’ Pearl:  “Say what you mean and mean what you say” – Lindsay Taylor