How to Be More Assertive at Work – The Ultimate Guide

How to be more assertive

Here’s the ultimate guide on how to be more assertive at work to add to your communication skills kit bag.

We’re constantly told that if we want something, we have to ask for it. But navigating the workplace is often more complicated than just making requests.

We’ll probably get nothing out of meekly asking for a raise. We might be ignored if we interrupt and insist our project team listen to our idea. However, when we’re assertive, we’re owning our space and offering our value. And chances are, we’ll finally see better returns in exchange for our value.

If you’re ready to be heard, be appreciated, and get more out of your work life, keep reading.

Learn what it is to be “assertive”.

At first, it’s easy to confuse “assertive” and “aggressive”. In fact, many people dealing with an assertive person can feel a little on guard, even when the assertive person displays absolutely no signs of actual aggression (more on that later).

Being assertive requires calmness and a healthy dash of optimism, but it also means we don’t bend in half when challenged.

Consider this example:

You’re in a project meeting at work. You and your colleagues are discussing the production of an important report. You have an idea about how a portion of this document should be laid out, and what it should present.

When you share this, a colleague disagrees.

An aggressive person: Categorically disagrees with their point of view, perhaps even interrupting to defend their position. A passive aggressive person may freeze that colleague out altogether and go about convincing other coworkers that their idea is the best.

A passive person: Agrees with the colleague. “You’re right, it was a dumb idea, never mind.” It’s easy to shoot the passive person’s ideas down, as they often become embarrassed or confounded as to how to react. In some cases, the passive person isn’t upset at all, but just doesn’t see the point in speaking up for themselves.

An assertive person: Asks the colleague to explain further why they don’t like the idea and listens to the response. The assertive individual then calmly counters this by succinctly explaining why their idea makes sense. They shift their gaze to other colleagues in on the meeting and invites their perspective on the decision at hand.

Think about an assertive person you’re aware of, whether it’s someone you know, or a public figure. Soon, it becomes easier to identify what is and isn’t assertiveness.

First, you must kick doubts to the curb.

If you have insecurities involving your work performance, chances are, they only exist because you did nice job of overthinking it. The truth is, there’s not a single person at your job who never failed at something.

Okay, so you screwed up and made a mistake or two at some point. There’s a certain task that isn’t your biggest strength. We know FOR A FACT every single one of your coworkers has flubbed something, and that they too have a weakness somewhere. So let go of those bad old memories where you weren’t being your very best. None of that negates your current potential.

Next, assess how you view your superiors. “Superiors” in the workplace merely hold a higher rank than you at work. They are not actually superior to you as a person at all.

Their expertise and opinion simply holds more weight than yours in certain situations, in this one space only – the workplace. So, if you’re somehow mentally framing them as some all-powerful being, STOP. You can respect their position without deifying them. Once you get real about this, you won’t fear them as much.

And that makes it twice as easy to be assertive!

Know your worth.

Now that we know what you aren’t – “unworthy” – let’s drill down on all of the things that make you invaluable to your workplace. What do you contribute?

It could be that you always meet your deadlines, and that you’re usually willing to help out a coworker in a jam. It could be that you always arrive on time, or that you’re very organized. And then there are the actual results of your work. Throw away the idea that you “got lucky” with your achievements. Own every accomplishment.

If you haven’t made many strides, but are looking to change that, you’re still right on track. Once we’ve properly eliminated self-doubt, we see that the path is clear for us to be as great as we want to be.

Identify how you normally communicate and adjust that.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m just not naturally assertive,” and that’s a very valid statement. The truth is, people who are passive, aggressive, or anything else on the spectrum of communication can conduct themselves assertively.

It’s all about being honest with yourself about how you normally communicate, and spotting what needs to be adjusted.

For example, maybe you’re a real talker – someone who takes the listener on a journey through your whole thought process, as well as adjacent topics. To become effective and assertive, maybe all you need to do is state your point more plainly, right up front. This will get people who aren’t patient or talkative to listen.

If you’re aggressive and have problems accepting what you perceive to be criticism or rejection, become a good listener. Work on not interrupting anyone and truly listening, instead of just waiting for your turn.

If you’re too passive or quiet, that’s fine, too. You don’t need to start banging down doors and making your every opinion known. But when it’s necessary to be heard, try mirroring the style of an assertive person you’ve observed. The information coming up next may make it easier for you to feel confident when making requests or bolstering your position.

Make appropriate eye contact and cut down on fidgeting.

The next time you speak to a coworker or superior, pay attention to what your eyes do. Are you looking over their shoulder? Do your eyes shift over to every noise you hear? Or are you locking them in an unblinking gaze?

When asserting yourself, maintain steady eye contact. However, it doesn’t need to be intense. Blink normally, and even use your eyes to gesture toward things you’re discussing.

Speaking of gestures, many people worry about what to do with their hands when they feel like they’re on the spot. When assertive people speak, their hands very naturally put emphasis on what they’re saying. Think about the hand motions a public speaker who is immersed in their topic may make.

While hand movement is good, fussing and fidgeting is not. Remember, assertive people know what they’re after. If your mouth is saying, “I’m committed to handing this in by the end of the day,” but your hands are saying, “I’m going to get every piece of lint off of this sweater by lunch,” you can see how your message may not be taken wholeheartedly.

Build good boundaries.

Honestly, good boundaries help you in every area of life. But when it comes to being assertive, it’s especially important. Some of us are so bent on becoming a blinding success that we end up biting off more than we can chew.

Assertive people are not superheroes. While many of them do occupy enviable positions, their confidence is never mistaken as a willingness to go way above and beyond.

That means that no, you don’t have to watch your email constantly on your day off. You do not have to finish everyone else’s work or take on anything extra outside of your normal workload, period.

One huge reason we should all strive to be more assertive is so we’re not taken advantage of. Preventing overwork is essential to staying productive, so setting boundaries and assertively enforcing them can be a massive help.

FINAL TIP: Temper your assertiveness with wholly positive interactions.

It’s true – some people are intimidated or turned off by an assertive person in the workplace. We can count on there being at least one coworker or superior who is almost always feeling defensive.

The bottom line is that they may just feel threatened by someone who knows what she wants.

That’s why it’s absolutely key that we make sure we’re having positive interactions with these people which don’t involve our input or requests. Ask how their weekend went, how their kids are, or sincerely compliment their clothing. Then, walk away! Over time, this prevents touchier people from ducking or cringing when you approach them.

It actually trains them to respond to your assertiveness in a more reasonable manner.

In Closing

We all deserve respect. Unfortunately, we don’t always feel like we’re getting our due. Commanding respect and getting people to realize your worth can be very tricky territory – unless you can assert yourself.

It’s only important that we remember it isn’t all about us. Being a good listener is a massively important ingredient, as is recognizing the way those around us communicate.

When we become comfortable asserting ourselves, respect is often given mutually, without thinking. And honestly, can you think of any better conditions under which we all succeed?

Here are some blog posts to help you get your next job:

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Welcome to Work It Sister!

I’m Jo! I’m a career, relationship and healthy living coach. I help women who’ve had major setbacks in their career, relationships and health who feel like they’ve lost their mojo start ROCKING their life with the ROCK YOUR LIFE METHOD…woohoo!

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