Career Development

How to Be Assertive at Work With Examples

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What is assertiveness? 

Assertiveness is the ability to express your needs in a respectful but firm way. It relies on you taking into account the needs and wants of others, while also recognizing that your needs are of equal importance to theirs. Assertiveness is an incredibly useful skill to develop, as it helps you to achieve your career goals and can be useful in your personal life, too. Assertiveness actually reduces conflict in the workplace and can even help to strengthen relationships with your colleagues.

How to be assertive

Some people confuse assertiveness with aggression, but aggressive people do not consider the needs of others and only consider their own goals. Aggressive colleagues have a negative impact on working relationships and office morale, whereas assertive team members have a positive effect on the environment and atmosphere in the workplace.

Assertiveness is about stating your needs or desires clearly and honestly, so follow these steps to help make you more assertive:

1. First. be clear with yourself about what you want to accomplish

If you have decided to be more assertive, then you need to know what you actually want to achieve. If there is a specific situation that has been frustrating you for a while, then think about how to tackle it with an assertive approach. If you want to stop being overlooked for opportunities, then think about how you could use a little assertiveness to make it known that you would like to take your career to the next level.

2. Second, preparation is the key to this type of verbal communication

Assertiveness may not come naturally to you, but you can act as though it does with a little planning. Imagine yourself in a scenario where you wish you were able to speak up. Practice what you are going to say until it feels natural and you are confident about it. When it comes to the moment, you will be able to explain your point of view calmly and concisely.

3. Third, be honest to an appropriate extent

Honesty is the best policy in most cases, as you will need to be open about your position in order to have a useful discussion with your colleagues. Hold back anything unnecessary, though. You are much more likely to achieve what you want if you are on good terms with everyone, so avoid making personal comments. If you have to bring them up, make criticisms factual and to the point.  

4. Then, put yourself at the center of attention 

Assertiveness is all about what you want, so start your sentences with ‘I think’ or ‘I would like.’ It’s hard to argue with someone expressing themselves in this way, even if you disagree with their reasoning. Avoid making accusatory statements such as ‘you always’ or ‘you never.’ These statements will just put the other person on the defensive, whereas you want them to focus on you.

5. Finally, disagreeing doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked 

Sometimes you will find yourself having a difference of opinion with someone that cannot be resolved. In these circumstances, the assertive thing to do is simply compromise by respecting each other’s differing opinions. Assertiveness isn’t about having everyone agree with you. It’s about being able to express yourself appropriately. 

Examples of assertive behavior

Here are two examples of how to be more assertive at work:

Being assertive with your manager

You work hard to finish your projects on time because you like being able to double-check your work before the deadline. Your manager knows that you’re efficient, so she keeps giving you last-minute jobs that you have to rush to complete. You end up submitting both sets of work unchecked and worrying that you made a mistake. 

Example of an assertive way to approach your manager:

‘I want to make a positive contribution to the team, but I find it stressful when you give me unexpected work at the last minute before the deadline. The quality of my work suffers, and I feel overburdened. Is there some way of re-organizing things so that I get enough time to complete everything?’

This gives a clear account of the situation you don’t like, explaining how it affects you without criticizing or laying blame. It also demonstrates a willingness to find a solution, which can be a great way to use a positive attitude as a tool to get what you want.

Being assertive with a coworker

A coworker wants you to join them on a committee in charge of organizing a staff social event, but you are already struggling with your workload and are worried that you’ll have to work late to get everything done. 

Example of an assertive way to decline their offer:

‘I can’t take on any more work at the moment. I think it’s very generous of you to devote your time to an event for everyone, but I just can’t prioritize it at the moment. I would love to help next time when I am not so busy.’

When you explain why you can’t help and acknowledge the hard work your colleague is putting in, you are making it clear that your declination is not a criticism of the project itself. It’s far better to decline than to feel trapped and agree when you know you won’t be able to devote any time to it and risk letting your colleague down later.

Why is assertiveness important?

Assertiveness can be one of the most useful tools to help you get ahead at work. You may feel as though you give a good impression when you agree to everything, but if your work ends up suffering because your workload is overwhelming, then you are doing yourself an injustice. 

Assertiveness is also important if you want to be considered for management roles. A good manager is respectful and inspires respect in their team. Assertiveness is the key to good negotiation and helps you to reach solutions that take everyone’s needs into account. 

Assertiveness is also good for your mental health. Speaking up when you need something will help keep your stress levels down and give you the tools to respond appropriately when you find yourself in difficult situations.