How To Be Assertive At Work

Assertive vs submissive


Have you ever taken on a big multi-departmental project at work? You talked through the details and assigned each task, only for that one person to not do their part in the end. Even though they try to apologize and excuse themselves, the task just isn’t done and now you have to take on extra work. It’s so frustrating. You have enough on your plate as it is without having to fix someone else’s mistake. And now, you’re trying to figure out how to best approach the situation without exploding in their face. Before you go any further, may we suggest considering an assertive approach to the situation?

Being assertive is the ability to strike a balance between anger and passiveness. But, it’s important to understand that being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive or rude. And most of all, it’s not an excuse to bulldoze people into getting what you want. Trust us when we say that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.


Why is being assertive an excellent personal trait?

Being assertive is great for your work life. But, it’s also an excellent skill that you can transfer into your personal life too. Knowing that you can stand up for yourself in a constructive and useful way, can actually help you control stress and anger. And, when you approach situations with assertiveness, people are more willing to listen. This means that you can work together to reach an outcome that works for both sides. 

As a core communication skill, assertiveness can help get your point across. All while being respectful, constructive, and useful – and without being passive. Learning how to not let your anger fester is also a great side effect of being assertive.

Assertive vs aggressive

There are some big differences between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Understanding them is very important to be able to tell what you’re dealing with. Let’s take a closer look.

Someone who’s assertive will:

  • Take your emotions into account. When talking they’ll be clear and honest about what they need from you.
  • Get their point across by using empathy, and not force. No yelling, using hurtful language, or negative facial expressions.
  • Stand up for themselves. They’ll defend their needs without forgetting yours in the process. 
  • Be willing to compromise. They understand that a positive outcome is one where you both give and take.

Someone who’s aggressive will:

  • Not care about anyone’s outcome but their own. They will want to win at all costs. 
  • Wield their power, even if they have little of it, to bully you into doing what they want.
  • Threaten, yell, ignore, or treat you as if you’re incompetent.
  • End up with a likely negative outcome after a very unproductive conversation. 
  • Will refuse to compromise, and if they have to, they will make it very clear they don’t think it was a successful interaction. 


How can you tell your personality type? 

Understanding your personality doesn’t come easy. Especially if you’re the kind of person not used to looking at themselves from that angle. If this sounds like you, finding a personality type test you can take to gain more insight into your level of assertiveness might be useful. 

One of the options is our free DISC quiz. Geared towards learning about your work personality specifically, your level of assertiveness will still be included. The test was created based on the research of psychologist, William Marston. He was an expert in human emotions and behaviors. Particularly, how we dominate, influence, comply, and how steady we are in our decisions. 

Once you’ve completed the test you’ll be able to understand how each of those traits works together to build your own personality. The quiz results are also great if you’re curious about what kind of work is ideal for you based on your personality type. Lastly, did we mention it’s only 25 questions? A small effort for a big reward! 


What can I do to be more assertive at work?

Being assertive might look different for each of us. But, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re on the right track. 

Think about what your main goal is. What do you truly want to be getting out of the interaction? What will the other person likely be wanting on their end? How can you merge all of this together? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you move in the direction of being assertive. 

Below, we also shared some additional tips you can use along with the questions above.

  • Practice the conversation in advance. Most of the anxiety that comes from being assertive is from the fear that you won’t know what to say or do. Even famous speakers practice their speech before a big event – you should do it too! Role-playing is one of the most underrated tools you can use to help ease that fear.
  • Start small. Your first try at being assertive doesn’t need to be during a conversation with your boss about a raise. Start smaller. For example, if you already have too much on your plate and someone asks you to take over a new task, let them know you can’t. Try something like “I’d love to take this on for you, but I’m unfortunately swamped with my other tasks right now. Maybe John would have better bandwidth?”
  • Practice specific body language. Body language is a great way to trick your brain into feeling confident – even if you don’t exactly believe it yet. There’s the classic power stance that superheroes do before launching into battle. Wide stance, hands on your hips, and chin up. If that seems like too much at first, there are other tiny changes you can do that work just as well. When you’re meeting with the other person, sit up straight in your chair. Don’t lower your gaze, and relax your shoulders. Hold that during the whole conversation and you should feel your stress ease up a bit. 


Related Readings

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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