How to be more assertive with your concerns

If you want to achieve something in your career, it’s not enough to just have good ideas. Your ideas have to be heard and recognized. For this to happen, it’s important that you can formulate your concerns in a precise way and present them to your supervisor or even a whole committee with confidence.

Be clear how useful your idea is
Before you go out on a limb, you should first think clearly about the usefulness of your suggestion, your idea, or your concern. I’m not talking about their usefulness for you personally. Your focus needs to be on the decision-maker or makers, or on your audience. You need to put yourself in your discussion partner’s shoes: 

  • How does your concern fit in with the needs of your discussion partner? (Connections / points of overlap)?
  • What’s important / essential for this person (needs)?
  • How does this match up with your concern (contribution to fulfilling needs)? or
  • How will this person, this team, or the company be strengthened by your suggestion (contribution to fulfilling needs)?

After all, it’s only human nature to think of your own self-interest before you think of others. If you want something, you have to offer something else in return. Focus first on the person who you see as the decision-maker. If there are other relevant individuals who will influence the decision, also consider these people in your thoughts. For example, the CEO or the manager isn’t the only one who gets to have a say on the executive board. Depending on the topic, the importance of individual members of the management can vary over time. Spend some time in advance thinking about what the organizational or power structure is like at your company, and how you can win over key players for your idea. Consider when and where is the right time to position your concern. Is it a personal discussion, a small or a large-scale meeting, or an informal exchange over lunch?

Think positive

If you feel confident about your issue and have a good gut feeling that your concern truly will add value for your company, think constructively. Thoughts like “they’re just going to put me down and use me like a punching bag” aren’t helpful, and will weaken your preparations. Consciously say STOP to your inner critic anytime a thought threatens to tear you down mentally. Instead, think the following:

  • My concern is going to be taken seriously.
  • This topic is important to my division and to me.
  • Now is the right time to speak up.

Prepare your arguments thoroughly

Plenty of people underestimate good planning. Nevertheless, good planning often has the first and last word in making sure your concerns are heard. No top athlete would jump into a competition without a good warm-up. Writing down your arguments is also an absolute must. As you record them, take the time to think through your arguments and make sure they’re plausible. Writing will also help you stamp your ideas onto your long-term memory. This will increase your level of confidence for the upcoming negotiations.

Develop a line of reasoning

You need to present your concern concisely and coherently. The following line of argumentation can help you do so. In general, a good line of argumentation has seven steps:

  1. First, you should name the topic. Do this even if it’s already on the agenda, or if your boss and the other meeting participants already know about it. This is like a starting signal to help them concentrate on you and on your concern. 
  2. Briefly describe the challenge that you believe requires a solution. Avoid exaggeration, don’t make accusations, and don’t complain that the solution is long overdue.
  3. Instead, describe what needs to be improved using facts.
  4. Present one – or even better – multiple (max. 3) alternative solutions that would be appropriate in your mind.
  5. Talk about the usefulness and advantages of each one (especially for key decision-makers, who need to agree with your concern).
  6. Suggest deadlines: by when, exactly, should the next step be defined and implemented?
  7. Now invite your audience to discuss their opinions.

If you’ve got your argumentation laid out well, and the topic is an important one for you, it’s a good idea to go through presenting your line of reasoning in a role-playing exercise with a coach. This is a great way to review the consistency of your argument and lets you hone your presentation skills.

Pay attention to your gestures while you present your suggestion

Most people don’t know that the content of what they’re saying only makes up 10 to 15 percent of their likelihood of success. What we see influences 85 to 90 percent of our impressions. That’s why it’s so important to train on this specifically. The following key points can help you:

  • Breathe calmly
  • Look at all of your listeners, not just your supervisor. When making eye contact, start with key decision-makers.
  • Start to speak once you have everyone’s attention.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Stand up or sit up straight. Distribute your weight evenly over both legs – this will give you a solid foundation.
  • Speak in an even voice and speak clearly – people have to be able to understand you easily.

Ask questions, summarize briefly

In the best case scenario, you’ll find agreement on your concern and can start in on the next steps. If there are objections, however, or suggestions for improvement, you need to remain calm. Let others have their say, listen very carefully, and take the concerns of your discussion partners seriously. (It’s a good idea to have a notebook handy so you can note their central points). If necessary, ask follow-up questions so you can better understand the speaker’s intention. Once you’ve heard everyone’s opinions, briefly summarize what you understood. If you’re still lacking information for further action, now is the time to ask for it, for instance:

  • What additional information do you need to make a decision?
  • What direction should we continue to think in or work in?
  • What should we take on or achieve before our next meeting?
  • Who’s responsible for what, and by when?

Once you have your answers, end the meeting or your presentation. Thank everyone for the opportunity to present your concern and leave the room with good upright posture – exits are important too!

I wish you lots of success in being assertive with your concerns. If you need support while you prepare, just let me know. I’m happy to help!