How to demonstrate your assertiveness in the workplace

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By Alex Burden, Student Blog

23 February 2017

You may already be a few years into the world of work or just starting out with your training firm, but assertiveness is a skill that will help you at every stage of your career.

Assertiveness is the skill to communicate in a strong and collected manner, that helps get your point across in a non-threatening and non-aggressive manner. What it isn’t, is bawling out colleagues, put-downs or generally not being a person that people want to work with!

Where aggressiveness is ‘do it my way’, and passiveness is ‘do it your way’, assertive people are asking ‘what is the best way to approach this’.

Unfortunately, it’s a skill that is rarely taught in school or university, instead, it tends to crop up in professional development courses at a later date in your career. But, you can be assertive - right now.

Physical assertiveness:

1. Great posture communicates confidence. Get rid of those hunched shoulders and eyes off the floor! You want to be sitting or standing straight, and crossed arms are a no-no.

2. Pay attention. Demonstrate that you are engaged in conversations by acknowledging cues with head nods, and maintaining eye contact.

Language assertiveness:

3. Think of your key message. Summarise what you want to communicate in one sentence, and stick to it. Try not to deviate – you have an answer but there is no negotiation. Stay concise and try to avoid an upwards tone when ending sentences – you want to make a statement not a question.

4. Accept your mistakes but don’t take the blame. Be confident in owning up to mistakes and demonstrate how you will fix it for the good of the organisation. If you are being blamed for something that was not your fault, be clear on how your role or function does not relate to the issue and suggest possible solutions.

5. Don’t be afraid of difficult conversations. Show that you are willing to tackle the big and small issues, and avoid shying away from topics. You are confident and can tackle anything!

6. Look at the language you use. Some verbs are succinct and have more impact than others. Choose positive, assertive verbs and speak in the first person i.e. I can, I will, I will not.

7. Say no. You won’t be able to please everyone, and you can’t cram more work than is psychically possible into a day. If you are keen to please colleagues, then think of possible solutions to their problem and demonstrate your willing attitude to help, rather than taking it wholly upon yourself.

8. Ask questions. If you are armed with full knowledge, it will make your work easier. It will also demonstrate that you are willing to provide a solution to an issue. You will be able to highlight any potential issues in the first conversation.

9. Clear communication is assertiveness. It leaves little doubt as to the action that is required of all parties.Be sure to explain the advantages of your ideas.

10. Be polite. You catch more flies with honey!

11. Get the facts to support your statements. Emotion comes second-place in assertiveness. Of course, you can experience all the emotions you want, but do not let them cloud a rational approach.

In your role:

12. Slow down your reaction time. It’s good practice to have a think before answering – we need more deliberation in the world!

13. Be proactive. Show you are willing. You will have a good idea of what you can and can’t do, so focus on what you can do and are not, currently. When people are looking for new ideas to place in development, you could be armed with valued input. 

You can also use this period of reflection to identify your boundaries, and communicate these in due course with colleagues; i.e. you will do that financial report, but you are not cleaning someone else’s data.

14. Praise colleagues. When they do something great or helpful for you. It will show you are confident in their work.

15. If someone’s having a bad day, do not assume it’s because of you! You are not responsible for other people and how they control their emotions, and absorbing too much of other people’s energies will impact upon your own.

Our final piece of advice is to remember that you’re being assertive, not aggressive. If the situation does not seem or feel like the right time to be assertive, just wait.


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