5 Tips for Managing a Challenging Situation Assertively

Wednesday, 11th February, 2015

Woman Shouting Angry To Another OneWhen you’re faced with a challenging situation, e.g. an angry staff member/parent, what’s your default position?

Do you tend to become more passive, aggressive, or confidently assertive?

When I was younger, and didn’t have the tools or confidence I have now, I would tend to be more passive. Now I’m more measured and respond more confidently and with more self-assurance … and it’s largely down to studying and trying out some assertiveness techniques.

Assertive behaviour sits in the middle between passive and aggressive behaviours.

Pass_Ass_Agg Continuum Line

Here’s a quick table with some of the attitudes, behaviours & body language of each one:

Pass_Ass_Agg Table_Short_Blog

Print off this table & highlight the words / phrases that currently describe you, when you’re faced with a challenging situation. Perhaps you don’t fall neatly into one, and you’re a mixture of two or all three?

Over the years I’ve gradually become better at responding to these situations assertively, and here the 5 key things I focus on to help me do this.

#1. Taking a Breath – Before launching into a response, pause and give yourself thinking time. Use a question, such as the one in #2 below to help create that thinking space. Sometimes people talk to (or at) you with a sense of urgency, which can make you feel you need to respond with the same level of urgency. This is about not allowing any emotion attached to the situation get the better of you, resulting in saying or doing something you don’t mean to.

#2. Being Clear – When faced with someone who’s being challenging/aggressive, you can end up mumbling or not speaking as clearly as you normally do. Play through what you want to say in your head before saying it, and imagine saying it clearly. Use some generic questions or phrases (e.g. “I’m interested in finding a solution here. Tell me all you can about the situation as you see it.”), and as you’re listening, use the time to consider your responses, and get any emotion under control.

bigstock-Businessmen-quarreling-46604029#3. Being Confident – This comes from a security in what you’re saying, or in the knowledge that you can find the answers or solutions – if not there and then – at some point in the near future. Don’t feel like you need to find a solution straight away, if one doesn’t easily present itself. It’s OK to say you need time to look into the matter further, or consider the other person’s opinions, before coming to a decision or continuing the conversation at a later date/time.

#4. Being Decisive – Know what you want or don’t want from the situation, and express it confidently. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying – it can come across to the other person (e.g. through your tone / body language). It helps with your decisiveness if you can find out what the other person wants from the situation; ask them what outcome they’re looking for. Don’t assume. Once you’re clear about this, stick to your point and be respectful of their views as well as your own. Avoid regularly deferring to the other person’s wishes, unless you know deep down that it’s the right thing to do for that situation. 

#5. Keeping it factual – This is about not taking comments personally, even though the other person may seem like they’re having a go at you. It’s more likely they’re responding to something that’s happened (or they perceive has happened), but can’t express themselves assertively. Show them how it’s done!

bigstock-Business-team-isolated-on-whit-42928834I’ve also found it a good idea to develop a default sitting or standing position; it helps me feel physically grounded. I find it gives me an added level of confidence. So … if you’re standing, ensure your weight is spread evenly between your feet, rather than leaning on one leg and giving a subconscious message to the other person that you’re a ”pushover’! If you’re sitting, sit up straight – in a way that you feel comfortable, and in a position you can maintain, rather than ending up fidgeting. Practise these body positions in normal conversations – so it becomes your default position, and you don’t have to think about it when feeling challenged.

Which of these 5 tips do you already use? Is there anything that’s not here that you also find useful for challenging situations?

Which of the above tips are you going to use in the future?


Tdebbie019 fhank you for taking time to read this blog.

I’m Debbie Inglis, a performance coach, mentor and trainer, working with Heads, Principals, School leaders and their teams to maximise leadership performance, create more effective, confident, and motivated teams … in a way that brings out the best in them.

If you’re interested in my services, please get in touch, and you can read more here.