Be more assertive – Learning from Richie McCaw

At the core of all communications there lies a precarious tightrope. Fall off said tightrope to one side, and plummet into a pit of passiveness. If you lose your balance and slip to the other side, you’ll be met by a red-hot stream of aggression. Maintaining a healthy balance will reward you with the achievement of assertiveness. It all sounds very much like every conversation we have takes place on a knife edge – but thankfully we’ve got a much nicer scenario to explain how you can be more assertive.

The rugby world cup is still in full swing, and we’re continuing to make the most of the occasion! The legendary New Zealand flanker Richie McCaw provides a perfect example of what assertiveness looks like in a public figure. While he’s sadly not appearing at this year’s tournament due to his retirement, McCaw’s legacy is enduring enough that it would be an oversight not to follow lessons from his illustrious career. From humble club-level beginnings to becoming the most capped international player of all time, the man is the embodiment of perfectly walking the tightrope. Here are our examples of how you can keep your balance when practicing assertiveness.

Passively existing

The generation of workers nearing the end of their first decade in the working environment is more passive than ever before. Some people equate passiveness with positive character traits, as it means the individual in question is easy to get on with, right? We’ve all experienced working with a colleague who perhaps hasn’t fully known their value and internalised their failings, while struggling to attribute success to their own talents. It’s a rather depressing reminder, but those individuals who struggle with self-doubt can take a page from Mr McCaw’s book of success.

On the rugby field, part of Richie McCaw’s job as a flanker is to always be on top of the breakdown, and to give the opposition hell when they’re trying to advance. If a flanker allowed the other team to steamroll them in a ruck and did nothing to rectify their methods in the future, this would be a prime example of passiveness. In conversation, the equivalent of this would be not expressing your feelings or opinions of things that directly affect you. If your manager asks you to needlessly work outside of working hours, despite all of the extra hours you may have put in, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to contest this. It would, however, be unreasonable to tackle your boss. Save it for the pitch.

Being repeatedly battered by a South African player or taking a verbal beating from others - it’s all on the same plane of passive existence. Do you think that Richie McCaw got where he is today without saying “No” a few times?

 Aggressive behaviour

Aggression is the point at which assertiveness tips over into negative realms. Where passiveness is clearly not ideal, aggression is an equally sub-optimal method of interacting with others. Almost a third of all participants in a British Association of Anger Management poll reported having a close friend or family member that couldn’t control their aggression in social situations. Now, this is a hard point to speak negatively about in terms of Richie McCaw, because his aggressive (but clean) playstyle is one of the reasons he was a titan of the sport. Despite being a thorn in the opposition’s side through his consistently menacing presence in attack, McCaw wasn’t known for taking his tackles too far. And this is the main takeaway from the theme of aggression. It’s great to look out for yourself, but not so to cause harm to others. If your aggressive nature causes you to make decisions for others that don’t necessarily carry positive outcomes, your assertiveness has gone too far.

Now that the anti-aggression evangelism is out of the way, we can dive a little deeper into some core manifestations. Nearly every example of aggressive behaviour is much more subtle than the previous rugby examples, almost incomparably so. One such indirect example is not admitting your mistakes. This can include not apologising when necessary and is one of the most inconspicuous yet commonly seen examples of aggression in the workplace. The inability to consider others when asserting yourself is distinctly un-McCaw.

A more obvious and equally damaging example of aggression includes ignoring boundaries. Pushing your way into other people’s work, affairs or assuming levels of familiarity that do not exist can cause discomfort for those around you. Professional boundaries are easy to maintain, requiring that you simply don’t interfere in work matters that don’t concern you. The fact of the matter is that this form of aggression can begin with the best intentions but can cause much more harm than good.

Assertiveness – the sweet spot

Christina Grimmie said it best, “Confidence is not ‘will they like me?’ Confidence instead is ‘I’ll be fine if they don’t.’” To be assertive is to decide for yourself. It means ensuring that everyone in a situation is accounted for regarding wellbeing - including yourself. Two world cup victories and 110 international match captaincies for the All Blacks displays the commitment that Richie McCaw had for assertiveness, with his near-universal likeability proving that he could lead a team effectively, making his voice heard within a team. Any team captain needs to respect his player’s opinions and feelings, and share his own thoughts freely. Furthermore, not feeling guilty when saying “no” to people can feel like a harsh response for someone who is used to pleasing people wherever possible – because it’s just not healthy to maintain! Being respectful yet firm with your responses is obviously easier said than done, but the effort is more valuable than you may have considered.

Assertions such as those just mentioned mean you can ask for things you need, approach tasks with confidence and allow you to move positively towards success in any environment. As a communication skill, it’s a foundation that everyone needs.

So do you think you can follow Richie McCaw in being assertive? Not all of us will want to (or be able to) emulate his playing, but his communication skills can be adopted by everyone. It will help your everyday interactions and make you a more independent decision maker. Quanta Training can help you on the path to assertiveness, just get in touch with us today!


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