Being assertive at work can be hard and is something many people struggle with. Our insecurities, perceived weaknesses, and previous work experiences can stop us from being assertive when we need to be.

Assertiveness is a type of behaviour and communication that ensures that your opinions and feelings are considered and that other people do not always get their own way. Assertive behaviour sits between passive and aggressive behaviour. 

Assertiveness can help us to:

  • Handle difficult situations and prevent others taking advantage of us 
  • Develop mutual respect with others 
  • Avoid saying yes when we really want to say no or taking on more than we can manage 
  • Reduce anxiety, anger, low mood or stress
  • Achieve our goals and give us a sense of having some control over our lives
  • Feel good about ourselves, increasing our self esteem 

Being unassertive can lead to a loss of confidence, low mood, feeling resentful, feeling helpless and getting frustrated. It is important to remember that being assertive means we can choose how we want to respond. We may choose to be passive or aggressive but we do not respond from a default mode. Here are our top tips to being more assertive…

Relax before you start. You will be able to think more clearly and express yourself better if you are calm. Try taking a few slow deeper breaths.

Rehearse. Briefly go over what you plan to say before you say it. Coming up with a different style of communicating may take practice, eventually the words will come more easily and spontaneously. Ensure your message is clear.

Signal confidence. Even if your mind is not entirely made up and you are willing to change your opinion in light of new information, avoid signaling a feeling of inferiority. If you are undecided, say so. If you feel strongly, say so. Try not to undermine your own opinion i.e. “I could be completed wrong about this….”

Signal openness to other views. Sometimes you may wish to indicate that you have an opinion but are willing to entertain other ideas. For example when choosing where to eat we may offer a preference “I don’t have a strong preference, but I’d like to try a seafood restaurant,”

Own your message. When offering an opinion use “I” statements to show you take responsibility for your viewpoint. When we lack confidence it is tempting to appeal to authorities “Well the prime minister says…” Therefore if they disagree they will be disagreeing with the authority opinion not yours. 

Don’t apologise for having an opinion. You have a right to have an opinion. Avoid starting with “Forgive me for saying this …” or “I’m really sorry but I think…”. Do you really regret having a point of view?

Do not intimidate. If anyone changes their mind, it should be for good reason not because you push them until they give in. Do not raise your voice, tower over, stare, threaten, make a personal attack or use guilt. Even if people do agree, they will only agree until you leave the room. 

Consider before justifying. Some people feel threatened when others disagree. This is often because they believe a) to keep their opinion other people must share it b) the worth or validity of their opinion or them as a person depends on their ability to defend it. If someone challenges your opinion, you can choose whether to defend it. You do not have to convince them you are right in order to keep hold of your opinion. You can simply agree to differ.

Don’t let it slide. We do not have to give our opinion every time the opportunity arises. However it may be important to give your opinion even if it is not asked for ie. When someone makes a racist comment, tells a tasteless joke or behaves badly. 

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