How to assert yourself at work without elbowing your way around

20 Nov 2019 / 12:08 H.

DIANA Dreessen-Woersten was shy and quick to blush when she first started working at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in her early 20s. That had to change if she wanted to make it in the tough world of finance.

“In the space of six weeks I completely changed my inner world,” says Dreessen-Woersten who now works as a coach for entrepreneurs, managers and executives – most of them men.

She is all the more capable for having learned to assert herself in such a highly competitive, male-dominated industry. A key message she gives to her clients is to prepare well.

“That’s the bit that almost everyone does right,” she says. However, most people don’t fully anticipate possible objections and prepare appropriate counter-arguments.

She also advises clients to devise an imaginary “competence space” to reinforce their inner sense of readiness. “Every person should be able to name at least ten things that he or she can do well.”

It’s also crucial to know exactly what you want to achieve. “If I keep my goal in mind then obstacles on the way can’t harm me,” is one approach she favours.

Often it seems that argumentative people who display outrageous behaviour do particularly well. But as Dreessen-Woesten believes, “the more impudent and overbearing a person is, the more they have to hide.”

In such cases she advises people to question the other in a calm and objective manner. One good strategy is to sum up half-baked arguments and allegations and respond with, “So you think that’s the case with us? What brings you to this assumption?” So instead of feeling personally attacked, you can adopt the role of factual moderator. You don’t need to mirror narcissistic behaviour in order to prevail, she stresses.

Nobody has to change their personality in order to gain respect, adds fellow coach Jens Korz. “Everyone can assert themselves but everyone does it differently.”

His coaching focuses on a client’s personality. “We teach people to assert themselves in a diplomatic manner, and this means things must operate at the level of relationships.”

For bosses, this also means responding to the wishes of their employees. Korz advises employees to report their concerns concisely and precisely. “It’s good if you do not go to the boss and say ‘I have a problem,‘ but rather that you already have a solution in mind.”

Sigrid Meuselbach, who works as a coach for managers, urges her clients to express themselves clearly. “In order to prevail, the most important thing is to talk straight,“ she says. And don’t be too reticent about your own abilities: “To attract attention it’s good to talk a little bit more about yourself.”

It is not just women who have difficulties asserting themselves. “Most men are actually rather unassuming guys who are just trying to get something settled,” believes Dreessen-Woesten.

Young men often have problems securing paternity leave, part-time work or the opportunity to work from home, adds Meuselbach.

However, in these cases a person seldom gets far on their own. “It won’t improve until two or three have succeeded,” she says. This is another good reason to get busy networking, she feels. – dpa

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