Toe the Assertiveness Line

Feb 9, 2011
3 Min Read

As a leader, I’ve always struggled with the assertiveness line – how do you demonstrate enough assertiveness, and how do you avoid over-doing it?  Bob Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford, answers this question with the following tips from his new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst.

Talk more than others – but not the whole time

At least in Western countries, people who talk first and most are usually seen as the most influential.  But don’t talk the whole time, as people will see you as a bully, boring, or both.

Interrupt people occasionally – and don’t let them interrupt you too much

People gain power by winning what Bob calls “interruption wars,” or interjecting and battling back when others try to interrupt.

Cross your arms when you talk

When people cross their arms, they persist longer and generate more solutions when working on difficult tasks.  Crossing your arms also sends yourself a message to crank up the grit and confidence, but beware that doing it too much and too intensely can make you look uptight.

If you are not sure whether to sit down or stand up, stand up

This is especially crucial if you are a new leader.  Standing up signals that you are in charge and encourages others to accept your authority. Also, whether you sit or stand, position yourself at the head of the table.

Try a flash of anger now and then

If used in small doses and with proper precaution, the occasional outburst or dirty look can help you seize control.  Though of course it should go without saying that spewing constant venom undermines your authority and will earn you a bad reputation.

Give away some power or status, but make sure everyone knows it was your choice

For example, due to a space crunch you might volunteer to surrender your cushy meeting space to a needier team.

How do you balance over-assertive leadership behavior with under-assertive leadership behavior?

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