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Affirming yourself at work

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on June 13, 2008

Feel like your voice isn't being heard? Not sure how to get your ideas and your rights across? Asserting yourself at work isn't always easy, but it's essential if you want to earn respect. Here’s some advice to help you assert yourself gently but surely.

- Dare to express yourself
Expressing your ideas or having different opinions to others can sometimes mean keeping it to yourself, but it’s essential to air them at the office. It allows you on the one hand to defend your position and on the other to make your skills valuable within the company. You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work on an interesting project or always getting lumped with the same mundane jobs. So dare to speak up!

- Create a positive image for yourself
In order to be able to assert yourself in life (not only at work), first you need self-confidence. Why not try taking acting lessons or look at your body language to beat your shyness and fear of speaking in public? Find a way of releasing the pressure, regain control and give off a confident image of yourself.

- Learn to say no
Agreeing to stay late at work, doing favours, accepting last-minute jobs, lunch with colleagues when you're really busy...you want to say no, but you don't have the nerve. Yet knowing how to refuse means asserting yourself, and saying no doesn't make you any less appreciated: on the contrary. You need to set your boundaries and make people respect them, for your sake and theirs. So express yourself and without apologizing or entering into never-ending discussions about why. Don't be shy about explaining why you say no, though, to make the situation clear and help your colleagues understand.

- Defend your personal territory
Life at the office seems like a community and sometimes colleagues intrude on your space, constantly invading your corner of the office after a visit to the coffee machine, looking to borrow your stapler, glue, red pen and the rest! This can start to make the atmosphere heavy. The same goes for your colleagues who always have a thousand problems to tell you about and come to cry on your shoulder or colleagues who are friends and want to quiz you about your love life! Set limits and explain nicely but firmly that you love their company but you need to concentrate.

- Defend your professional territory
Knowing how to assert yourself at the office is also knowing how to defend your skills, as well as your field of action. Sometimes power struggles exist within a company or department, and these can soon make conditions difficult. Does one of your co-workers always put him or herself in your path and fight to get their hands on projects you work on as if their life depended on it? They probably have an uncontrollable need for strong, conflictual relationships that motivate them and make them perform better...or it could very well be that they have a lack of self-confidence. So find the right moment and the right words and make them understand they shouldn’t feel threatened, that you don't want to take their place, but that they shouldn't tread on your territory.

- Managing a team: being human and authoritative
Authority isn't always automatic and needs to be earned. Managing a team means knowing how to make decisions and apply them and earn respect. An essential point to keep in mind is communication. To avoid misunderstanding, be clear! Discuss projects in as much detail as possible: contents, objectives, implementation, means, schedule and deadline. Knowing how to be assertive is also knowing how to listen. Always ensure that projects get off to a good start, think about any potential obstacles and difficulties, and together find a way to overcome them. Show your team that you're not just there to give orders and you're not above mistakes: you're also involved and that they can count on you. And above all, encourage and praise your team. This is what makes a good manager!

by Sarah Horrocks

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