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HR Article - Role of Assertiveness in HR

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Assertiveness & HR - How to Be Assertive?

Is saying “no” to someone wrong? I have asked this question to myself innumerable times in the past 7 years in my tenure as a HR professional; because that’s how a few of my colleagues had made me feel. In the past decade, there was a myth that a HR professional being a people’s person, should be nice to them and always behave in a pleasing way etc. But that does not definitely mean you can’t say no to someone.

I previously worked in an environment where all my colleagues from the HR team used to listen to all employees’ queries and say ‘yes’ to everything, even to their unreasonable requests. There were a lot of situations were none of their requests could be honored but still my colleagues would happily tell them ”Yes we will do that.” But once the employee was out of our cabin, they would say “Oh, just forget it.” But why can’t they say ‘No’ to that employee? When I asked them this question, they said, “We have to be nice to people as we are in HR, so say yes for now, we can say something later when they come in again.” I was shocked at such a response from my senior colleague who had worked in HR for an MNC before.

It was since then that I have always wanted to share my views on the topic of Assertiveness. People consider assertiveness as a Taboo at office, especially in HR. But I had the habit of approaching the employees with an assertive way of communication and explaining to them politely why their request cannot be considered. By being honest with them, we could at least be assured that the employee/s would not have false hopes and get disappointed later.

What is Assertiveness?


Assertiveness is the ability to express oneself while respecting and taking others’ feelings and rights into account. People who communicate assertively are not mean or obnoxious. They do not step on the feelings of others to get what they want, as is the case with aggressive communication.

Instead, assertive communication involves expressing your feelings or reasons or needs or desires in a polite and non-judgemental way. Assertive communication is also considered helpful to others, because you are giving clear information about what you can and cannot and why so.

Assertive communication is not just about saying ‘no’, but it is also about the way that a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ message is conveyed. Many people who resort to 'unassertive' approach recognize that their pattern of behaviour is to be nice or compliant for far longer than they really want to until they reach the saturation point, where they could no longer hold it in; and react inappropriately which is more like an outburst and gives the onlookers a wrong impression.

How to be Assertive?

To be an assertive communicator, the basics are to be confident and adopt a non-judgemental approach towards people and issues at hand.

  • Listen actively without interrupting
  • Empathize with the speaker
  • Ask open-ended questions to understand the expectations and requirements of the speaker
  • Analyze the request or grievance expressed by the speaker and check if it is reasonable
  • Express your feelings clearly with ‘I’ statements – ‘I feel’, ‘I see’, ‘I hear’, ‘I realize’
  • State your views and suggestions clearly, politely and appropriate to the situation
  • If the speaker’s request has to be denied, ensure that you explain the reason for declining the request
  • Provide alternate suggestions or ideas that will help the speaker and encourage them to explore other feasible options to resolve the issue
  • To ensure understanding from both the sides summarize the conversation with emphasis on the solution or options available

Assertiveness and Body Language

Body Language or Non-verbal Communication plays an important role in communicating assertively.

  • Stand erect, face the speaker and maintain good eye contact while you speak
  • Have a relaxed body posture
  • Speak calmly in an appropriate tone
  • Be courteous always and smile if appropriate to the situation
  • Speak coherently with confidence and assurance

Remember that you can always be nice and sound nice to people even if you say ‘No’ as it all depends on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ you say it.

Contributing Writer: Sangeetha Lal works as an Assistant Manager - HR for R Systems International Ltd., a CMM Level 5 IT Company in Chennai. [email protected]

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