Moving forward: the art of tact

A lack of assertiveness can hinder your career. For example, when two people
with similar experience are vying for a job, it’s often the more assertive one
who gets promoted.

Some people confuse assertiveness with being aggressive. Aggression is
getting your own way by bullying others. It gets results, but at what cost?

Conflict is inevitable, and there will come a time when you are at
loggerheads with someone. In those situations, there are three options: give in;
demand your own way; or negotiate a compromise, so you both get something you’re
happy with.

Effective interpersonal skills, negotiation and tact are key to good
communication. Here are some tips to being an assertive communicator.

• Don’t make it personal. Comment on behaviour rather than attacking the
person’s personality.

• Focus on positives. State what you want, rather than complaining and being
negative. For example: ‘I prefer it when you’re courteous’ rather than ‘You’re a
rude, ill-mannered lout.’

• Say what you feel without scolding or reprimanding: ‘I feel irritated when
you cancel meetings at the last minute.’

• Be a good listener. Find out the other person’s point of view and respect

• Find areas of agreement. Seek out points you concur with. When you disagree
with someone, be constructive; outline areas where you do agree and offer
alternatives for the areas where you don’t.

• Choose the right time and place. When you have something important to
discuss, choose somewhere private and make sure you have the other person’s full

• Be direct. Get straight to the point. Don’t try to manipulate.

• Use assertive body language. Look people in the eye, smile and use open
gestures rather than folding your arms or pointing your finger.

• Take no for an answer. If someone can’t or won’t do something, respect
their decision. Don’t bully or cajole.

• If someone is aggressive to you, don’t retaliate. Either rise above it, or
take the wind out of their sails by agreeing. For example, if someone calls you
an idiot, either shrug and say you know you’re not perfect, or ask them in what
way they think you’re being stupid.

Lynn Williams
is a career counsellor and runs workshops on
interview techniques

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