Career & Education

Almost failed course for being 'unassertive'

Carolyn Marie Smith

Sunday, November 05, 2017

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Dear Career Advisor:

My daughter, who is a final year student, did an internship last summer which formed part of her overall grade. Although her work-site supervisor commended her, she received a grade well below her expectation, which we find puzzling. Her supervisor remarked that although she did well in terms of tasks, she was not assertive. I think this is so unfair as my daughter has always been a shy person. Why should she be penalised for this when she worked hard?

Yours truly,

Concerned Mother

Dear Concerned Mother:

Your daughter's participation in the experiential learning internship is a very valuable exercise from which she has undoubtedly developed invaluable employability skills. The value of this in propelling her career advancement should not be overlooked.

Now to your primary concern of her shyness and the supervisor's assessment of her as unassertive. Could it be that as a parent you may have inadvertently facilitated your daughter's embrace of a misplaced label of shyness? While both shyness and being reserved are on the opposite end of the spectrum from assertiveness, there is a difference between the two. Shyness, which can be overcome or treated, manifests itself in anxiety, being uncomfortable in the presence of others, and being easily embarrassed. On the other hand, a reserved person might not readily share their feelings or thoughts, but they are not necessarily shy. Could it be that your daughter is reserved and not shy? If she is demonstrating shyness as a final year student it might be appropriate for her to get professional counselling.

It's always good to take cues from the feedback of others. What lessons can your daughter learn from her former supervisor's assessment of her lack of assertiveness? Below are a few activities and suggestions that will help her to improve in this regard.

• Value others equal to but not more than self.

• Learn to speak openly and share ideas

• Use a conversational tone when speaking

• Make positive eye contact when speaking with someone

• Be relaxed and open to receive feedback from others

• Think logically and remain focused on the matter being discussed

• Offer suggestions to help identify solutions to complex situations

• In addition to listening and observing, ask questions to seek information

• Show enthusiasm and be actively engaged in assignments

• Participate in group activities

• Be flexible. When necessary put in extra time to complete work/tasks.

• Volunteer. Volunteerism is an excellent avenue to build self-confidence and assertiveness

• Take the initiative. This is the most common way to demonstrate assertiveness

As mother and life-coach, you may need to look for opportunities to encourage your daughter to speak up for herself and practise the above suggestions. Assertiveness is a workplace skill that is often necessary for career progression and advancement.


Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith is associate vice-president of student services at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Manchester. Submit your questions to her at




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