We’ve had a number of conversations with clients recently about dealing with conflict and difficult situations. As more of us have returned to the office it seems that issues that have been bubbling below the surface are popping up and causing friction in the team. As we approach a busy time of year it’s crucial that these issues are dealt with, and everyone pulls together.

What’s come out of those conversations and, indeed, a couple of face-to-face team sessions we’ve run (hooray to being able to run some face-to-face sessions again!) is that the issue is really good communication. And by good communication I mean being assertive.

So, what do we mean by assertive? It’s all about balance. Someone who is aggressive is firmly putting their point of view, their needs, ahead of the other person’s. Aggressive behaviour doesn’t always mean angry, it can be subtly or passively portrayed but it always comes from a desire to have your position to be the winning one.

Being passive, on the other hand, means subjugating your point of view, your needs, and letting the other person ‘win’. There’s a risk here that the passive person never puts their view across at all which automatically makes the other person dominant – or aggressive – even if that wasn’t their intention.  They have no chance of meeting the other person’s needs if they don’t know what they are.

Assertive behaviour is in the middle. It’s all about balance. Each person’s point of view is heard by the other party and given equal weight.

This means listening to each other. Not just taking turns to speak but actually taking time to hear what the other person is saying, making sure you understand what they mean and that they know you’ve heard them; then expressing your view.

Listening and understanding the other person doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or, indeed change your mind! But the other person will at least know that their view is heard.

This was quite a lightbulb moment in a recent team session. Discussions were taking place around the balance of home and office working. Some team leaders were very forceful in discussions, insisting on certain work patterns and this caused friction. In another team it was the opposite situation and the team leader felt, once she had asked who wanted to work from home, she had no option but to let those who wanted to, do so. Not necessarily!

Both were entitled to a view – and hearing and understanding the opposite viewpoint doesn’t mean she had to change her mind. But nor did it mean she had to adopt a forceful aggressive stance which was not her natural style. Knowing that she was entitled to her view, listening didn’t mean changing her mind and gave her added confidence to have some tricky conversations assertively.

Balance is the key.

Nicky Clough, December 2021

communication bubbles