It is possible for anyone to develop assertiveness

It’s 2.45pm during a busy day, one of our lawyers comes over to say, ‘Could you just do the amendments on this doc? I need it before the close of play, thanks’. And before we say anything they’re gone.


We have enough work to take us past 5.30pm, so why didn’t we say something?


Assertiveness is about the balance between us standing up for ourselves whilst showing that we understand the other person’s perspective. It is in the middle ground between aggressive and submissive behaviours. In the scenario the lawyer takes our silence as acceptance and agreement.


Sometimes it is easier to realise when we haven’t been assertive after the event. We say to ourselves ‘why didn’t I say something just then?’ This is very common and it can happen to the most assertive people.


One way to look at assertive behaviour is to think of it as getting the best solution for the lawyer, ourselves, the client and the firm. This is because the assertive approach requires us to take everyone’s perception into account. In the scenario the pressure of completing the extra work may have a negative impact on our current work in terms of its quality and getting it done on time.


When we are busy and are ‘interrupted’ by a lawyer, there isn’t much time to be assertive and the moment is lost. One tip in becoming more assertive is to engage with the lawyer as they approach our desk, so that dialogue has started and we are already talking. We don’t wait for them, we engage them as they approach, with eye contact and with words.


If we are talking there is much more chance of us being assertive. As the lawyer approaches we could say ‘Hi Fiona how can I help you?’ She replies, ‘Could you just do the amendments on this doc? I need it before the close of play, thanks’ we reply, ‘I can, but we’re full on this afternoon, could we push one of these other pieces of work over to tomorrow, or can we get help from one of the other secretaries?’


These words won’t be suitable for every situation in every firm but you get the idea. If we start talking as they approach we have a much higher chance of being assertive. Try it and let me know how it goes.


More on developing assertiveness in future posts.

Assertive behaviour; being assertive when we’re up to capacity.