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How to be more assertive in workplace?

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Senior Software Engineer at Grab2 years ago

I have gotten this feedback from my managers couple of times. Problem is - in the past (in some other companies), I have been on the receiving end of negativity. Often times, being reprimanded for asking a question, in some of the other teams I was a part of. I recall that I was shouted at in front of everyone because I was too tired during one of my on-calls and dozed off, missing an on-call call at 3:30 AM. I recall these events getting escalated to VP level. It impacted me deeply.

While it was hard, I moved on from such teams and now I try to be kind to all engineers, especially junior ones. I make sure that their onboarding journey is as fast as possible and they are granted help that is required. Extending it further, as a part of calls with other stakeholders as well, I often tend to be with a softer tone. It has been mentioned by my manager that - "You often come across as too kind. If you know that you're right, then why are you not speaking it with confidence."

How do I improve on this aspect ? Recently, I did this course on assertiveness but thinking if there are some other tips from your end.



  • 33
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    While we're talking courses, I'm just going to throw this out there 😁: Alex's Guide To Effective Communication

    I really appreciate this question and am glad it's now part of the Taro ecosystem as it illustrates the other extreme of communication: Being too empathetic to the point where it's not clear what you stand for. This is an extremely important balance to strike as to me, one of the defining attributes of a strong senior engineer and tech lead is that they confidently and deeply believe in a certain set of principles while being understanding of other viewpoints.

    Here's the tactics I use to project assertiveness when I have to:

    • Emphasis - So in my communication series, I talk about tentative language. You can still do this; the trick is to use adverbs to add more gravity to your point. Here's an example:
      • Before: "I don't think it's worth it having the team work the weekend to meet the deadline."
      • After: "I really don't think it's worth it having the team work the weekend to meet the deadline."
    • Speak with energy - This is a part of communication people often struggle with: There's much more to getting your point across on top of the words you say/type out. Your style and body language matter a lot. Here's some ways you can project more confidence:
      • Enunciate clearly - Make every word clear and don't talk too fast. Slow yourself down to really push core points.
      • Tone up the volume a bit - You don't want to be yelling of course, but I've worked with a lot of shy engineers who are almost muttering. You want to be on the higher end of the average volume when you really want to get a point across.
      • Gesture - This works out really well when you've done your homework going into a discussion where you have an extremely clear point of view, coming up with stats, charts, diagrams, and anecdotes that back your claim. You can point to them and use your hands to further emphasize core points - The extra energy accentuates your speech.
      • Push emphasis points - So in my above example about overworking the team, you would speak the "really" more slowly and a bit louder to show how much you believe in this idea.
    • Know what you stand for - It's hard to get yourself into that more confident state if you don't know what your core beliefs are. It looks like you care a lot about the well-being of your teammates, especially your mentees who are more junior. So well-being over short-term productivity can be one of your core beliefs - This is actually one of my core beliefs. When you understand this about yourself (maybe even write these core beliefs down), it makes things a lot easier to "flip that switch" when you really need to project that confidence. For example with myself, there is a big difference between "Protecting his mentees" Alex and "Discussing whether to use POST or PUT" Alex.
  • 20
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    Senior Manager at Zoox; Meta, Snap, Google
    2 years ago

    I don't know your exact situation, but I can definitely recommend a wonderful book on this topic. It's called: "Radical Candor"! And it basically says, that people are whether too kind to provide a constructive and direct feedback or too harsh to demonstrate enough care...

    So your manager probably wants you to learn how to be more direct and provide constructive feedback, but without becoming too harsh on people. And this book can help you to become a little bit better in this.

    I would also recommend asking your manager for a mentor within the company who they think could be a great example of not being "too kind".

Grab Holdings Inc., commonly known as Grab, is a Singaporean multinational technology company. It is the developer of the Grab super-app, which provides users with transportation, food delivery and digital payments services via a mobile app.
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