Be assertive and confident

Media24, 18 June 2008

Two hundred thousand SA graduates are unemployed, yet we are one of the most skills-poor nations in the world.

In 2004 Stats-SA reported that there were 60 000 graduates without work in South Africa. By 2006 that figure had jumped to 200 000 graduates who could not find a job.
A primary reason bosses give for not employing someone is a lack of assertiveness and confidence.

Tshidi Mokgabudi who is a director of KPMG and was this country's first black woman CA, has interviewed dozens of hopefuls with degrees in advanced tax, accounting and finance, but most fail the interview.

In a report to deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka she noted: "It is not enough to just have a degree, people have to have life skills to get jobs. Many, despite having a degree, lack the soft skills of interpersonal communication, comprehension, listening ability, assertiveness or self esteem."

Are you shy?
Shyness does not have to be an impediment, it can be an imperative for growth. Liza van Wyk, CEO of major training organisation Biz Tech, has always battled with shyness: "It's something I've taken deliberate measures to deal with, but it is a major problem for many people young and old, and if they don't learn how to manage it, it can delay progress."

Van Wyk points out that some of the most successful people in the world are shy – Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and many of the world's most famous comedians and actors. Johnny Depp said: "As a teenager I was the type of guy that never fitted in because I was convinced I had no talent. And that thought took away all my ambition too."

He did what we all have to do if we want to succeed, he swallowed his fears, projected self confidence and became brilliant at his chosen career, says Van Wyk

But some people become confused about assertiveness, they think it is about being loud and dogmatic. Assertiveness is about taking responsibility and respectfully asserting your rights. Assertiveness is a positive statement.

Assertive or aggressive?
It is aggressive to say, 'you always interrupt me' – an assertive statement is: 'I would like to say what I need to without interruption.' An aggressive boss will say, 'this is sloppy work', whereas an assertive individual will say: 'the punctuation in your document does not work.' He or she makes a statement the individual being addressed can learn from and go away not feeling humiliated or angry.

As a result of the skills shortage and unemployment rate, Biz Tech has found great demand for their course Mastering Confidence, Influence and Assertiveness Training Skills. The course aims to help people set goals and do group work in confidence building and assertiveness training.

"We teach people how to use affirmations and role acting to reprogram their thinking so that they can project greater confidence. There are also obvious image considerations they have to use too, better dressing, walking tall and speaking clearly ensure they are taken more seriously," says van Wyk.

According to Biz Tech, the type of people who attend their training course are often staff whose bosses want them to move onto greater things because of their talents, but a lack of assertiveness and confidence is holding them back.