An employability Skill for Students

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An employability Skill for Students

Job Skills You Will Need

Its about how to get from where you are to where you want to be



One of the key attributes which employers look for in selecting candidates is that of assertiveness. Can the candidate speak up when necessary? Can he stand up for what is right? Can he voice his feelings politely but firmly? Can he say no when he cannot do a job? Unless you have trained yourself in assertiveness skills, it is unlikely that you can do most of the above. Incidentally, that could just be the reason you lose the job to another person who has the same portfolio as yours, but proves himself assertive. And you end up thinking – “what did I do wrong”? How do you learn this skill? Here are a few known techniques. To be assertive, you need to know why you are non-assertive.

Why are we shy of asserting ourselves?

We don’t want to pick up a fight. Assertive behaviour appears, to most of us, to be aggressive. And we don’t like aggressive behaviour, either in others or in ourselves. So we avoid it. But – with a little practice we can easily learn to be politely assertive. We do not decide our own limits in advance. You must decide your limits of acceptance in most common situations – in advance. Asserting it then becomes easy. Say you are in a que and a person attempts to jump it. You can politely request him to get in line. You need to be calm but firm (assertive). If the person insists, you can persist – without losing your cool and calm. Of course it requires practice and patience, but it will eventually happen, especially if you have decided about it in 3/7 advance!

We feel it is inappropriate to be assertive. There are tricky situations where you have to be careful– with your boss for example! Normally we accept whatever the boss says because we don’t want to displease him. However, if you need to disclose some information which is unpleasant, you must assert yourself and disagree before things get out of hand. In fact, if it turns out that due to your silence the boss was embarrassed, he may lose confidence in you.

We do not want to end up in an argument. Often we do not assert ourselves to avoid controversy or argument. We convince ourselves that it is none of our business. In several circumstances however, it is your business to speak up. Say you are working in a company; voicing your opinion may be compulsory and not doing so would be considered as “non-participation”. Your point of view (actually your department’s point of view) is required for the boss to make a proper decision. This is where an assertive behaviour is necessary.

We do not want to hurt others. At times we do not assert ourselves because it may offend others and expose their shortcomings. However, in the interests of the Company, it may be required. It is then your duty to be assertive and reveal the flaw; but you must do it politely; without hurting feelings. This requires good communication skills, good command of the language and an ability to observe issues from several points of view.

Assertiveness as a job requirement

Most jobs require you to have qualities of assertiveness. That is why employers are looking for it in the candidates during the interviews. Assume you are in charge of a machine shop which produces bearings. Your shop has a capacity of 1000 bearings a week, but due to a breakdown of 2 machines, the capacity has temporarily reduced to 500 bearings a week. The maintenance team has been struggling to repair the machines but are not making much headway. At a production meeting, your boss commits to the chairman to enhance production by overtime to produce 1500 bearings the next week to meet an emergency commitment. You know that this can only be done if the 2 machines are repaired by tomorrow, which is highly improbable. You need to assert yourself at this stage and speak up though it may embarrass your boss. If you do not, it will 4/7 embarrass everyone later and you will be blamed for it.

Not asserting yourself when you actually want to do so bottles up your feelings and causes stress and discomfort. It could also result in depression, resentment, or frustration. A conflict develops within us if we want to express a feeling but cannot do so. We end up feeling incapable. If we represent or lead a team, we let down the team and this adds to our personal stress.

There are two simple techniques to assert ourselves even if we are shy by nature.

The first is called fogging.

In this technique, one simply provides a minimum response in placating terms – not meeting the demands – but agreeing with obvious truths. The key is to remain calm throughout the response. For example, the boss may say “you are late with the report again. I am fed up with this behaviour of yours.” Response: “I am later than I hoped to be, and I can see that my being late has annoyed you”. It can be followed by ….. “The work did get delayed” (an obvious truth) ……… “There were more hold ups than anticipated”………. “The delay was a little embarrassing” etc. till the situation becomes calm.

The other technique is called “Stuck Gramophone Record”.

It involves repeating your point of view several times calmly, ignoring any logic being used by the other person. This repetition will, invariably, wear down the other person and make him relent. Marketing personnel use this technique often to ingrain an idea in another person’s mind till he subconsciously accepts it.

Developing Assertiveness

Assertiveness can also be developed as a skill – a way of life. However, as with most behavioural issues, it starts with awareness – becoming aware of the way we behave in certain circumstances. We need to become aware of the times when we feel a certain way but cannot express it and keep it within ourselves. This usually occurs due to one or a combination of the following traits:

Low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence:

This is one of the most common reasons for non-assertive behaviour. Developing confidence, however, takes time and practice. Role of the job: Very often the job itself demands that we “listen to the boss”. Most military roles fall into this class. Another example is that of a pilot of a VIP aircraft. He is generally ordered to fly and is not expected to protest or be assertive; otherwise he risks losing his job! However, if the weather or aircraft conditions are dangerous, he had better assert himself!

Past Experience: We often model our behaviour based on our observation of our parents or teachers whom we have observed in our younger years. If they were persons who politely listened to others, we do the same – even when the situation demands that we protest and speak up! Being assertive does not, then, conform to our image of proper behaviour.

Stress of living: Some people are too stressed out with life and do not want to add further stress by being assertive.They prefer to remain unassertive; which, to them, is less stressful.

Nature: Some people are, shy by nature. They are quiet and introverted and simply do not express themselves anywhere, unless forced to do so. For them, being assertive is unnatural; hence they remain aloof and quiet. Once we have identified which of the above traits applies to us, we can work on them and gradually improve upon them. We can decide in advance how we would like to respond, remind ourselves to remain calm, and actually try them out in small steps. In time we will learn to be assertive without offending people. As Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., puts it, we need to observe a few rules to learn the assertiveness skill. These are:

Start Small: In mildly tense situations, she says, like in a restaurant, request for a different seat! then work up to more difficult situations – like asking your boss for a different type of job – or a raise etc.

Learn to say “NO”: Practice polite ways of saying “NO”. “You are busy the whole week” or “It’s just that you are too full with work already and you can take up extra work only after you have finished your existing commitments” – practice these in advance and you will find it easy to say them when it becomes necessary – she says.

Let go of guilt: If you have been a “people pleaser” all your life, it may be a little difficult to suddenly become assertive. Even if you can bring yourself to actually make some assertive statements, it may leave you with a feeling of guilt. You may look at assertiveness as hurting the other person. It also reveals your own sensitivity to hearing “no” as an answer to any of your requirements. Such people hesitate to even ask for help – they hate “no” for an answer! Others have a right to say “no” and so have you. Just let go of the guilt. Practice it.

Express your needs and feelings: One form of lack of assertiveness is not expressing your own needs and feelings – and expecting others to imagine them! It leads to frustration and stress. If you want others to be on time, tell them. If you want them to be properly dressed – say so. If you want them to finish the day’s job the same day and not carry it forward, tell them so explicitly. Be clear. Be firm. Be assertive. In conclusion, remember that assertiveness is a right and you do not have to request for it. Looked at in this way, it gives you the strength to act and not be shy. Everyone, and that includes you – has a right to express their feelings, beliefs, opinions and values. Everyone has a right to change their mind – and so have you! You have a right to make decisions, say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand”. Everyone has a right to say “No”, everyone has a right to privacy, to personal freedom – but it should be exercised with due respect to others feelings. It should be asserted politely.

Here is a small video on developing assertive skills. Watch it – practice it – it is effective.

Remember that assertiveness is a quality employers are looking for, but seldom find.

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