Assertive or silent? Which one should you be?

3 min read

Updated: 10/03/2023

One day I had a strange dream. I was sitting in a big hotel ballroom filled with mainly women, all seated against the wall. A dark-haired, handsome man was walking around, very sure of himself. He had probably just given a speech and was walking slowly and deliberately. Suddenly, all of us who were seated realized what he was doing. He was walking and checking out the women, so that he can pick one for himself!

I could sense the indignation rise in all of us who were present. Yet nobody said a word. Nobody stood up, nobody left, nobody commented with their neighbor. All of us remained seated, too afraid to move or say anything. Then I had an idea. I quickly took a large thin piece of fabric, a sort of scarf, and threw it over my head and body. I essentially covered myself in protest. He could not see me, I could not see him and this is how I refused to participate. I could not see the reactions of the others, but I could sense what they were thinking.  The reaction would probably be swift and painful.  I might be punished for such boldness from the so-called leader. I did not know, in that dream, what country or century I was in. As I waited for what was next… I woke up, relieved.

I don't know much about dream analysis, but I do know about communication. This dream reminded me of two crucial points related to communication:

  1. We often find ourselves at the workplace, in situations that resemble my dream. Times when we witness an injustice and we know, deep inside, that we should speak up or do something about it. But we don't do anything.
  2. Being assertive is a good thing but can also get you into trouble.

At the workplace, both men and women will sometimes gossip their heart away about what a difficult colleague said or did, how it affected them and why it was wrong. But they will rarely, if ever, say anything to the perpetrator of the injustice. People are afraid to lose their job, to miss out on their promotion or simply, to lose face with others. But if the injustice is real, this only serves to keep it going.

Let's remember therefore, that we don’t always have to SAY something. Our actions can also speak louder than our words. Many great men and women were not amazing public speakers, at first. They acted upon things, in the right time and at the right place. The later, when they reflected on their actions they knew which words to use.

For us, assertive people, our boldness is often a pain. It gets us in a myriad of tricky situations. We lose jobs and friends more frequently because of our tongue. To be better communicators, we, the assertive and outspoken ones, should remember to listen more and speak less. The best assertiveness is the one which can use as little words as needed. It needs to be just the right amount of salt to make the point. Not a pinch more.

So, which one are you, the bold type or the one who is rather quiet? In both cases you can be a change maker but choose your words and actions wisely to communicate your values, and be ready to accept the consequences.


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