Learning how to be assertive is a vital life skill. But it’s especially crucial for a successful career. Whether dealing with an unreasonable boss or securing a well-deserved promotion, inner confidence can be your secret weapon. Here are some strategies to consider so you can stand up for yourself without annoying your coworkers.
What Does Assertiveness Entail?
The American Psychological Association defines assertiveness as an adaptive style of communication where individuals express their feelings and needs directly while maintaining respect for others. Being assertive empowers you to articulate your needs and recognise when someone might be taking advantage of you.
In the workplace, assertiveness involves confidently communicating your opinions, suggestions, challenges, and requests while being mindful of others. You can’t control how people respond, but you can have a plan of action when you don’t get the response you’re hoping for. The key is to find the sweet spot between being a passive doormat and an aggressive offender. Striking a balance is crucial for asserting yourself effectively.
How to Be Assertive at Work
For some, being assertive comes easier. But for others, finding the fine line between being a pushover and just downright rude can be challenging. Turn to these tips to help you communicate your needs respectfully and professionally.
Communicate your needs.
When you communicate your needs, you’re not only negotiating for yourself, but you’re also seeking ways to elevate your contribution to the company. Stay objective when voicing out your needs. For instance, avoid saying, “This is too much work. I can’t handle it.” Instead, present the amount of time required to complete the task and suggest a more realistic deadline.
Besides sticking to the facts, cut to the chase. Avoid flowery explanations and unnecessary apologies when declaring your needs. The next time your boss asks if you can work overtime without pay, all it takes is a simple N-O.
Adjust your language.
Being assertive isn’t just about communicating your needs. It’s also about how you say it. Be tactful, direct, and honest. Adjust your tone to a calm and steady speaking pace. Speak the language of assertiveness fluently by using “I” statements in place of an accusatory “you.” For example, don’t say, “You never fill out the report after your shift, so I never know what to do.” Instead, you can say, “I feel anxious every time I see an empty report because I won’t know which tasks to complete.”
Additionally, maintain respect by addressing people by name. It shows that you recognise who they are and helps them engage in what you’re saying so they can listen actively. Speak calmly to put the other person at ease and lower their defences.
Use appropriate body language.
Besides your tone and language, being assertive involves nonverbal communication. Keep an upright posture and maintain eye contact to command the attention of the person you’re addressing. When in front of others, avoid crossing your arms and legs, as this can signal dissatisfaction or distrust.
Work on your confidence.
To be more assertive, develop your confidence. When you’re confident, it’s easier to advocate your opinions even if they don’t align with the ideas of others. You also become better equipped to handle criticism without taking it personally.
Build confidence by recognising your abilities and accomplishments. Reflecting on your successes will give you the boost you need to overcome a challenging project or an unmet deadline dampening your morale.
Also, address areas that may be affecting your self-esteem negatively. Maybe you don’t leverage the power of smiling in your communication. If you need to be more confident with your smile, consider a makeover with ClearCorrect. These dental aligners straighten teeth sans the discomfort associated with traditional metal wires and brackets.
How Is Behaving Assertively Different From Being Aggressive?
Do not confuse assertiveness with aggression. The latter takes on a “my way or the highway” stance, which is hostile and abrasive. Assertive people understand the value of communicating their needs without being pushy or pacifying.
For instance, an aggressive person might get angry when they don’t get what they want. By contrast, someone who’s assertive will remain calm and seek win-win solutions objectively.
Examples of Assertive Behaviour vs. Aggressive Behaviours
While it’s not always easy to distinguish between these two, some behaviours signal true assertiveness. To help you navigate this tricky road, here are some examples of how to be assertive (vs. aggressive):
- Speaking firmly vs. yelling
- Maintaining eye contact vs. exhibiting hostile body language, like banging hands on the table
- Taking accountability for your actions vs. blaming others
- Addressing the needs of others and getting their support vs. rallying to serve only your needs
Benefits of Being Assertive
Research from the Psychology Journal describes assertive communication as a tool for professional success. It can help resolve conflict and manage emotions democratically. In the workplace, it can have advantages not only for you but also for your team and your company. These benefits include:
- Earned respect
- Increased self-esteem
- Opportunities for win-win solutions
- Improved leadership skills
- Better team dynamics
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Increased job satisfaction
Mastering how to be assertive takes practice. You may stumble through difficult conversations at first, and that’s okay. Focus on actively listening to others’ needs while communicating yours. Find your voice and put yourself out there. With enough patience, soon, you’ll be putting your foot down like a natural pro.
APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.).
Oana, J., & Ona, A. I. (2019). Assertiveness in Self-Fulfillment and professional success. Interpersonal dynamics in the didactic relation. Psychology, 10(08), 1235–1247.