It was 6:15pm, December 28, 1978. United Airlines flight 173 was making its final approach to Portland International Airport. The passengers were strapped in, prepared for landing, some no doubt dreading the end of the holidays. But in the cockpit, all hell was breaking lose. Flight instruments indicated there was a problem with the landing gear. The domineering Captain McBroom decided to enter into a holding pattern until they could resolve the problem. He did this for almost an hour, while his co-pilot and engineer “politely gave hints” that the fuel supply was dangerously low.
Flight 173 crashed six miles from the runway, killing 10 people, including the flight engineer. The cause of the crash was partially attributed to the flight crew’s “lack of assertiveness” for “not communicating their concerns adequately.”
Most people confuse being assertive – feeling free to voice your beliefs and opinions in a respectful manner - with being aggressive. Women are especially stereotyped this way and consequently avoid being assertive for fear of being considered pushy. Assertiveness is effective communication.
3 Crucial Reasons for Assertiveness in the Workplace:
1. Safety - The most crucial reason for assertiveness in the workplace is to create a safe environment. This may same obvious, but often, even in life and death situations, people still DO NOT speak up. The above case may seem an extreme example, but assertiveness is vital in many workplace issues like sexual harassment, environmental hazards or manipulation by a domineering colleague.
What if you worked late and felt uneasy about walking alone to your car? How many people would ask the security guard to accompany them? Sadly, rather than “bother” the security guard, most people would shrug off their uneasiness and walk into the dark car-park alone.
2. Fostering teamwork, collaboration & innovation – When employees are encouraged to be assertive – to voice their ideas and opinions freely - innovation is ignited, collaboration blossoms and morale increases. When the corporate culture is so that employees fear retribution over their safety or personal dignity, something is wrong. But employees have an equal responsibility to develop a character of assertiveness, so that regardless of the corporate culture they will be able to speak up.
3. Being client/stakeholder focused – The client is not always right and lacking the fortitude to challenge your clients/stakeholders at times can be very detrimental for them. Service professionals must, especially in these challenging times, be able to anticipate developments and act on them. Sometimes the clients/stakeholders may not agree, but overall a service professional with high integrity is much more valuable than a pushover. No one likes a “yes” man.
People Who Lack Assertiveness Experience:
People Who Are Assertive: