Assertiveness at Work: A Free Introduction to the 7 Work Traits

  • By Jordan B
  • April 2023

Assertiveness is a cluster of behaviours that includes directiveness, independence, self-confidence, willingness to take risks, and one’s need for status and achievement.

Assertiveness is the trait which tells us why some people naturally like to be in charge and demonstrate boldness in their decision making, while others are more cautious and accommodating, enjoying being members of a team.

More specifically, assertiveness measures people’s attitudes towards decision making, their willingness to be held accountable for their behaviour and performance, their risk-orientation, and their desire for challenge.

The higher someone’s measured assertiveness, the more ambitious, driven, and forceful they will be.

The lower someone’s measured assertiveness, the more deferential, prudent, and cooperative they will be.

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At work, highly assertive (High A) people are adventurous, and have an interest in guiding others and controlling situations. They are more visionary in their outlook, more conceptual in their evaluation of problems, and more determined to overcome obstacles in pursuit of their goals.

High A people tend to be drawn to leadership roles including executive positions and management roles, as well as commission-based sales roles.

Conversely, people low in assertiveness (Low A) tend to avoid situations involving risk or decisiveness, preferring action be taken by group consensus and to succeed or fail as a team. Low A people greatly prefer to share wins rather than be held personally accountable for losses.

For these reasons, Low A people tend to be drawn towards more operational sectors, including labour, research, finance, technical, and clerical work.

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The purpose of this article is to provide a sketch of the differences between High A and Low A people to illustrate and clarify the meaning of the assertiveness trait, one of the 7 factors measured by the TRAITS assessment. With a better understanding of the trait, you will begin to recognize behaviours in others that reflect high or low levels of assertiveness, and by extension, which roles they are best suited to.

High Assertiveness at Work

  • High A people are comfortable in risky scenarios and are not afraid to make decisions. They are willing to take initiative and responsibility, even when intended outcomes are not entirely clear.
  • High A people are confident and self-assured. They are independent thinkers and are quick to resist authority they perceive to be ineffective.
  • High A people hold strong opinions and are quick to communicate and defend those opinions regardless of their popularity.
  • High A people love a challenge. They are very results-oriented and driven in pursuit of their goals by a natural need to achieve.
  • High A people enjoy taking control when a lack of strong leadership is perceived.

Low Assertiveness at Work

  • Low A people prefer to rely on established policies and procedure for a sense of direction and are deferential to authority. They tend not to bend the rules and enjoy direct supervision and support.
  • Low A people are very risk averse. They prefer to consider as much information as possible before making decisions.
  • Low A people love collaboration and being a part of a team. They enjoy soliciting ideas from others and offering support when it is needed.
  • Low A people tend to be polite, modest, and diplomatic when interacting with others. They tend to adopt a teaching or instructional style when developing the skills of others.
  • Low A people will seek reassurance when in unfamiliar territory but will approach understood assignments and responsibilities with confidence.
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In addition to predicting natural behaviours, an understanding of someone’s assertiveness (and other TRAITS) can also be used to understand their motivations, and what environment should be provided to get the most out of them.

High Assertiveness Motivators

  • Freedom to express their ideas.
  • A competitive and challenging work environment, with opportunities to learn new things and where merit is rewarded.
  • The opportunity to make or influence decisions.
  • Minimal supervision and constraints.

Low Assertiveness Motivators

  • Clear responsibilities and priorities.
  • An environment that emphasizes harmony and cooperation between teammates.
  • Low risk decisions that can be made with certainty by applying existing knowledge.
  • Attentive and supportive relationships with management and coworkers.

As with all factors measured by the TRAITS assessment, the higher (or lower) the level of assertiveness (or agreeableness), the more intense the behaviour.

Those who are closer to the average on assertiveness can display a degree of both high A and low A behaviour, but with considerably lower intensity than those who are strong in either direction.

People who are average in assertiveness often thrive in shift supervisory roles or human resources positions, which involve a mix of assertive and accommodating behaviour.

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Those with stronger traits are more consistent in their behaviour but have their own sets of challenges.

High Assertiveness Risks and Challenges

  • May act impulsively and be overly argumentative.
  • May prioritize admiration from others over responsibilities to the organization.
  • May insist on a leadership role when cooperation is more important.
  • May become frustrated when given too little independence.

Low Assertiveness Risks and Challenges

  • May hesitate to challenge policies or disagree with others.
  • May be too careful and fail to make decisions.
  • May be reluctant to enforce rules or criticize others.
  • May become stressed when forced to take risks, make decisions, or direct others.

When deciding the appropriate level of assertiveness necessary for a particular role, it is important to reflect on which behaviours are essential for the role, and which behaviours are detrimental to that role. We hope this blog has provided some helpful insights you can incorporate into your personnel decisions.

Interested in learning more? Check out the other guides in our free introduction to the 7 work traits.

  • Assertiveness: Directiveness, independence, willingness to take risks, and accountability.
  • Sociability: The need to communicate and influence others.
  • Patience: The need for established processes and predictability and one’s sense of urgency.
  • Detail Orientation: The need for structure, order, and accuracy.
  • Behvaioural Adaptability: Flexibility and versatility in behaviour across environments.
  • Emotional Control: The need to express one’s emotions.
  • Creativity: The need for innovation and ingenuity.

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