Last week, we examined the need for continued assertiveness by bank staff despite the changing scenarios in banking under the new normal. Once again, I wish to emphasize the appreciation of readers to differentiate assertiveness from aggressiveness. When a person acts aggressively, they ignore the feelings of others and almost never show appreciation towards them. Such attitudes can result in undesirable consequences for those who are communicating, as aggressiveness often hinders the taking of positive steps forward.
Perception about Assertive Persons
How do your bosses regard an assertive person? Sometimes there is a perception that some leaders do not like assertive persons. I genuinely do not believe so. The fact is, assertiveness has been a communication tool in the workplace since the mid-seventies. Let us see what our marketing guru, John Kotter of Harvard Business School has to say:
“Assertiveness is not about ‘winning’ or achieving something at the expense of anyone else. It is a matter of communicating clearly and effectively. In fact, an assertive approach often leads to success because points that are clearly stated are understood, and thus have a greater chance of being acted upon. Even where it ‘fails’ and the assertive communicator does not get what they want, dignity is retained, so that the other person or situation can be faced again.
Assertiveness is a positive communication style, forward-looking, problem-solving and based on negotiation. It recognises that both, or all parties in any situation have needs, rights and responsibilities, and it helps move the situation towards the best outcome.
Some people are born assertive – naturally confident communicators with sensitivity towards others. Others have to learn the skills, some finding it easy, some taking more time. Everyone’s assertiveness varies according to the situation they are in, the personalities they face, and their current mood. Most people will display non-assertive, aggressive and assertive behaviour, maybe in the space of a few hours.
Assertiveness in the New Normal
The year 2020 will go down in history as a year of disruption, innovation, inventions, challenges as well as problem-solving. Banking is one of the sectors of the economy which has seen its long-introduced innovative products being tested and onboarded without much coercion. Digital banking has boomed as a last resort used by customers, who found that as the only alternative channel to use to stay safe from covid19. The year has also witnessed many trial and errors involving banking in some unchartered waters, out of necessity. Who thought that working remotely from home would even be described as a new normal? It was only restricted to specialized departments or heads of units, when they had to produce some reports that required no distractions.
Are you a leader? Respect your subordinates’ rights and views if you want them to do so. Never underestimate anyone. Listen to others so that they also listen to you with patience and rapt attention. Be polite to others and never hide your feelings. If you are correct, you will be accepted by each and everyone in the society as well as workplace. Since we are not in normal times, assertive people, when encouraged, can be a source of innovative ways of doing certain things especially in the risk environment. Every new bank product or service introduced in the new normal has its pros and cons, but were the potential risks considered before their launch? Were the implementation team on the shop floor properly guided to do the right thing? Were they taken through test runs for their opinion on user acceptance? How skillful are they in managing technological disruptions using soft skills? Remember that a customer who is out of sight is not out of mind.
The Young professional
Is your main ambition to achieve to the top of your profession? By all means press on, but remember there will be times that you have to stand for truth and transparency. You may be in a complex situation like a jungle warfare because you were instructed to do something that turns out to be in contravention of the rules and regulations. Be sure that your assertiveness does not result in rudeness and insubordination to the bosses. Sometimes the “God factor” just comes in handy to save you from an embarrassing situation. If you are working in certain sensitive areas, make sure you make a mark by using assertive skills:
Assertiveness At Meetings: With the introduction of several virtual platforms for meetings, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, you will find yourself included in meetings previously restricted to senior management. This is a good opportunity to express yourself in front of your seniors. If you have noticed some areas of conflict such as lack of segregation of duties, divulging of confidential information, lax controls and transparency in some dealings, lack of reconciliation of some transactions, late responses to customers’ problems, etc. Let us see how you can go about it using your assertive skills:
- Prepare well with updated and correct data before the meeting, never losing sight that it is your best shot to sell yourself while remaining professional.
- Speak your mind and support what is professional in a subtle and polite manner.
- Learn to be patient. People who have a tendency to rush things often make mistakes and lose confidence.
- Check your emotions. Never mix your personal life with your professional life.
- Choose your words carefully. Honesty and truthfulness help you being assertive and confident. You do not have to fear about anything such as getting caught and so on.
Assertiveness with Colleagues:
Perhaps you have noticed that some directives issued by management are not being adhered to by colleagues. These may include:
- Social distancing at work eg. Friends eating together from one plate during lunch breaks.
- Continuous use of physical paperwork instead of transferring data through file sharing for authorization.
- Remotely working from home and yet sharing passwords, leading to customer data compromises.
- Pretending to work from home and yet working under compromising environments.
- False claims of having had discussions, visited or monitored customers’ business as a loan monitoring strategy.
- False claims of stock-taking at customers’ premises.
- Deliberately diverting customers’ funds to wrongful accounts before reversals.
The list goes on. When given the chance, do not compromise on these situations since they will come back to haunt you. Instead of confrontation, you can assertively discuss these with the colleague involved, highlighting the potential dangers. Some may be ignorant about the implications.
Behavioural Skills for Managers:
Dear managers, let us examine some assertive behavioural traits that will reinforce your assertive skills:
- Take responsibilities and delegate.
- Compliment others regularly on their achievements.
- Admit your mistakes and apologize when you are wrong.
- Don’t be a conformist; look for new experiences and alternatives to improve your professional and personal life.
- Do not let other people imposeorders on you if these go against your principles or desires.
- Avoid being manipulated.
- Assertiveness involves communicatingyour viewpoint without anyone walking all over you, while respecting
- Do not let anyone offend or threaten you. This way, you will avoid situations which cause you stressor anxiety.
- Assertiveness acts as a shield against refusal and humiliation; it is an attitude towards success.
- Be opento expressing thoughts, desires and feelings. Encourage others to do the same.
- Listen to the opinions and adviceof others. Take good advice and reject bad ones gently, to avoid offence.
- In this new normal, reflect on the regulatory requirements for the banking sector. Are you and your Team being guided by the central bank’s new directives?
- Are the “old” regulations still relevant in the new normal? If not, Which COVID-19-related challenges are the most important for the financial sector from the regulatory perspective?
- Which, if any, issues related to the provisions of IFRS9 and their interpretation are most controversial and how to deal with them? Is your bank re-classifying bad loans as prescribed?
- Is there a threat of an increase in the number of bad debts and what does it entail? Are some of your customers abusing the new directives? Are their losses really true? Do they still need the moratorium?
My final thoughts
If you are a leader, respect your subordinates’ rights and views if you want them to do so. Never underestimate anyone. Listen to others so that they also listen to you with patience and rapt attention. Be polite to others and never hide your feelings. If you are correct, you will be accepted by each and everyone in the society as well as workplace.
Don’t forget that the motto of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Ghana is still: HONESTY AND INTERGRITY.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.