Assertiveness and determination skills

Assertiveness is the ability to communicate with others in a clear and direct manner. It has been described as "The Art of telling people what you would like them to do, in a way that they don't feel threatened or put down". It differs from being aggressive, where you may get what you want, but may upset people and hinder your progress in the long run.

Some people confuse assertiveness with getting your own way all the time, but there may be occasions when you take the decision to back down on an issue, because you realise that the other person has rights too. It also differs from being passive, where you let others get their own way in most situations and don't stand up for your rights.

Assertive behaviour helps you to:

  • Say "No" to the requests of others in a firm but polite way when you don't want to do as they say.
  • To avoid being manipulated or put off by others.
  • To listen better to what others are saying.
  • To stand up for your rights.
  • To ask for what you want.
  • To achieve "win-win" situations where both parties are happy with the outcome of the situation.

Being assertive helps you to exercise more control over your life and relationships, and thus may help to increase your self-confidence. Non-assertive behaviour can lead to loss of respect from others and loss of self-respect in the long term.

How to be assertive in interviews

It can be used in many situations, but can be an important factor in performing well at interviews. In interviews assertive behaviour will help you to come across as a confident candidate who is likely to be able to get things done. It is characterised by:

  • firm clear voice.
  • eye contact with the interviewer.
  • being relaxed rather than nervous.
  • an open body posture (e.g. don't have your arms and legs folded tightly)
  • saying what you want to say using simple, clear language.
  • direct open manner.

Assertive responses

Assertive responses are based on clear, open, straightforward communications. They demonstrate a respect both for the interviewer and yourself, saying what you mean without being impolite, asking for what you want without making demands. This style is far more likely to create a positive impression than either aggressiveness or non-assertion. Assertive behaviour is not specifically designed to get you what you want in all situations, in fact it involves negotiation and compromise. The long term effects of such a style are that you are likely to develop a better sense of control and of having value and significance. 

Direct, responsible, honest, clear, accepting, forgiving, spontaneous, effective responses.

I have the right to:

  • make mistakes!
  • express my feelings, opinions and values
  • state my own needs and set my own priorities
  • be treated with respect as an equal human being
  • say yes or no
  • change my mind
  • say I don't understand
  • ask for what I want
  • not take responsibility for other people's problems.

Aggressive responses

Aggressive responses are characterised by an attempt to punish or disrupt the person you are dealing with. Such responses may occasionally be appropriate or even necessary, but you are asking for trouble if you use this style in an interview. You might just get away with the aggressive responses in questions 4, 5 and 6, but don't bank on it. If you are generally aggressive in your behaviour, most people will choose to stay clear of you and to organise their jobs and their lives in ways that do not involve you. 

Arrogant, pushy, bullying, blaming, sarcastic, vengeful, callous, manipulative, offensive responses.

Passive or non-assertive responses

Passive or non-Assertive Responses may seem polite and accommodating, but they give the impression of lack of drive, confidence and self-respect. Unless you are applying for a job that offers no room for initiative, they are unlikely to create a good impression, and as a general style passive or non-assertive behaviour is likely to leave you feeling like a doormat and full of resentment. Interviewers may pity you, but few of them are likely to choose you. 
Apologetic, inhibited, deferential, powerless, avoiding, moaning responses

Determination is a key attribute sought after by recruiters of graduates and for many roles can be more important than sheer intelligence. It is sometimes referred to as drive"the determination to get things done, to make things happen & constantly to look for better ways of doing things." 

It is assessed on application forms and at interview by asking you questions abut when you faced up to a challenge or a significant achievement in your life. Sometimes your interests can show evidence of this: mountain climbingmarathon running or major sporting achievements may strongly suggest the drive to succeed, but also learning to play a musical instrument to grade 8 or to reach black belt in a martial art could also be evidence for substantial determination. A vacation sales job in which you substantially exceeded your targets could also be seen as evidence.

Determination is closely associated with resilience: the ability to bounce back from setbacks, rather than giving up. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Perseverance and persistence are also highly related. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, is a major attribute of determined individuals. According to Heather Hiles CEO of Pathbrite the five key components of resilience are optimism, empathy, emotional intelligence, trust and perseverance. She says that "The ability to both respond to and embrace change is at the very heart of resilience."

To keep your determination high, it is important to set yourself goals that are stretching but attainable and challenging but realistic. 90% of all research on setting goals have shown a positive effect on performance. Life satisfaction is greatest for those who have short term goals which are enjoyable, not too difficult; and done in cooperation with others. The most satisfaction comes from pursuing a goal, not from ultimately achieving it.

You need to focus on one objective at a time and always have the next goal in mind. To accomplish more difficult tasks, break these down into components. Try to have mini goals on-route and try to map out several paths to your target: this allows flexibility if one route becomes blocked. Activity itself generates the impetus for further activity.

For more about this, see our Action Planning page

Persistence vs talent

We are more likely to persevere if we think talent is only peripheral to our future achievements. It requires about 10,000 hours or 10 years of serious practice and sustained effort to get to the  top in any sport and the same applies also in the Arts and Sciences: a long persistence of deliberate effort is more important than talent.

"Those who believed that their performance was transformable through effort, not only persevered but actually improved in the teeth of difficulties, whereas those labouring under the talent myth regressed."

Ordinary adults have a strong ability to change with practice, but if you have a fixed mind set, you don’t think you can improve your intelligence, you will probably not improve.

The region of the brain responsible for controlling fingers in young musicians grew in direct proportion to the number of years training. Purposeful practice builds new neural connections in your brain, so you can improve aspects of your "intelligence" with practice.

From the excellent book "Bounce" by Michael Syed

Failure and positivity

The value of failure

There is the old saying that a challenge is an opportunity, not a threat and we need to see failure as a chance to learn new ways of doing things.

Theodore Roosevelt said: "The man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything." and it's true that often the most powerful way to learn how to do something right is to initially fail: we learn from our mistakes.

At Google, “Failure is celebrated. It’s ok to fail, and that is culturally encouraged. We just want people to fail fast, so that they don’t get stuck doing the wrong thing for too long because they are afraid to admit that it is not working. So failure, is encouraged – obviously we don’t want people to be constantly failing – but I think its culturally ok to admit your mistakes, say that didn’t work and move on to the next thing."

Aimee O’Malley, Google at CIPD Annual Conference

A positive outlook

Henry Ford said: "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're absolutely right." and the latest research on this has suggested he is correct. Professor Suzanne Segerstrom, University of Kentucky found that when optimists encounter a setback they are less likely than pessimists to just give up.

Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania found that people who believed that they could achieve a certain goal did so in 80% of cases whereas people who did not believe they could achieve their goal only achieved t 20% of the time. But a positive attitude requires practise, just as you become unfit if you don't exercise regularly. We grow the garden of our own reality with thought-seeds. If we wish to grow flowers instead of weeds we must attend to our thoughts.

Showing determination in an interview

Typical question of the type asked by recruiters to gain evidence that you have determination

Describe a situation when you showed determination in facing up to a challenge

A good answer

I knew that I wanted a year out in Africa and that I did not just want to travel but also to share in the life of the country and its people. Teaching gave me such an opportunity to put down roots in a community but, as this was a voluntary programme, I needed to raise £2000 in order to take part in this project. I did this by working very long hours in a factory over the summer to raise the funds that I needed. (Demonstrates determination)

I planned my year by reading a great deal about Tanzania, using websites to research the country & speaking to Tanzanian students at the university. I also asked the organisation that arranged the placement to put me in touch with previous volunteers so that I could pick up tips from them on life in Tanzania, the schools & what I should take with me. (Evidence of careful planning and forward thinking)

Despite all this planning I still found that I needed to be very flexible & to adapt to teaching a class of 60 lively ten-year old boys with few text books & even less in the way of scientific equipment. I had to adapt to this lack of resources & to bear in mind that the pupils were learning English at the same time as they were learning science. (Shows adaptability)

This experience was the most satisfying of my life and the headmaster was so pleased with the children's progress that he asked if I would be able to return at sometime in the future.

Advice from an Advertising Agency Director

"Develop persistence: don't take no for an answer": this is the advice of a creative director at a top advertising agency.

In his final year he applied for graduate training schemes with all the top advertising agencies but found that no one was interested as he was heading for a lower second class degree. After lots of rejections he decided to email lots of agencies but was devastated when he got no response. So he decided to phone the agencies but couldn't get past the receptionist.

After this setback he thought a lot and decided that the only path left open to him was to visit the agencies in person. He made a list of all the agencies within reasonable traveling distance and spent the next week going round them and asking for some unpaid work experience. Again the same problem: everywhere he visited the receptionist said that everyone was too busy to see him. He was finally on the point of giving up on his dream.

He decided to give it one final throw of the dice.

He decided to go back to the agency he most admired. He arrived early in the morning and asked the receptionist if he could talk to one of the managers about the possibility of getting some work experience with the agency. The receptionist said that this wasn't possible, as he knew she would. So he sat down in the reception area and refused to leave until someone saw him.

Late in the afternoon, the receptionist whom he had got to know quite well during the day and who had taken a liking to him rang one of the managers, explaining the situation and asking her if she could come down have a very brief chat with him. After hearing his story, the manager took pity on him and told him she could offer him just a few days work experience but nothing more.

At 7.30 when the doors opened on Monday he was standing outside and that week he was always the first into the office and the last too leave at night. No task was too menial for him and he put one hundred percent into everything he was given to do. The manager was so impressed that she offered him a temporary job at the minimum wage.

He never left ....

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