To see assertiveness training as the answer to toxic workplaces is to misunderstand how people who get bullied see the world.
People who get bullied are usually too nice, and abusive personalities see nice as exploitable. Let me quote a couple directly, “I thought everyone who worked for the BBC would be nice” & “I thought if I was nice to everyone, everyone would be nice to me.” These nice people like to give everyone the benefit of any doubt. Assertiveness training isn’t the answer; first, you must convince these nice people that they have the right to be assertive. You have to show them how abusive personalities groom to test out potential targets – who is exploitable?
Often nice people are created by parents who emphasize the importance of being nice; their worst criticisms are always accompanied by you’re nasty. So unsurprisingly, when they enter the workplace, they think they must be extra nice to get on. So often, you have to unpick how a target sees themselves and the world. It’s not unusual for the target to make excuses for the bully, “They’re under a lot of pressure; if I just keep my head down, try a bit harder.”
I aim to create someone who is reasonable. Reasonable is more difficult to exploit, especially if they know the ways in which bullies groom – test out potential targets’ exploitability. That way, they’re ready for them.
I’ll give you the most obvious example – runners in the TV and film world can get exploited by First Assistant Directors who want someone to blame if the schedule falls behind. An inexperienced runner is very exploitable. An abusive First will groom the runner by making fun of their lack of experience. If the runner accepts this, the First will start shouting at the runner every time they are worried the schedule is falling behind, AKA it’s all the runner’s fault.