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How to be more assertive in the workplace

by Chloe Baird

What would you do in this situation?

You’re in a meeting, and your boss is outlining a new strategy your team will be implementing that your boss believes will generate more revenue. You agree with most of what your boss is saying, but you have some ideas on how to make improvements to her plan.

Do you:

  1. Sit there and say nothing.
  2. Immediately begin explaining your ideas and talk over the top of anyone else who tries to speak up.
  3. Plan to talk to your boss later in private.
  4. Suggest your ideas to the group. If your boss or colleagues have any arguments, listen to what they have to say and consider their points objectively.

1 and 3 are both pretty passive moves, while 2 is just straight-up aggressive. Option 3 might seem like a good idea, but what if your boss doesn’t have time to talk? You’ve also missed out on the chance to collaborate with your colleagues.

Option 4 is the “assertive” option. You’re not afraid to speak up when you have something valuable to say, and you’re also not worried about people finding fault with your ideas, because you understand the value of listening to others’ perspectives.

While it can sometimes be tricky to find the happy balance between being too passive and too aggressive, it’s a necessary skill you need in and outside of the workplace.

How can I be more assertive at work without being rude?

There is a difference between being aggressive and being assertive.

Being aggressive means that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get your ideas over the line because you’re convinced yours is the best and only way.

But working in a team environment, and with clients, means that you also need to be considerate, diplomatic, open-minded and thoughtful. Otherwise, you’re quickly going to be the one member of the team no one wants to work with, and will gain a reputation for being the office jerk!

Being assertive means that you’re able to put forward new ideas, and that you’re confident enough to defend your ideas if you need to. This is helped by your willingness to consider other peoples’ points of view. You can be direct without being hurtful, and firm without being domineering.

Conversely, you also need to make sure you’re not straying into passive territory, which could see you getting steamrolled by colleagues and clients. 

How can being assertive help me in my job?   

Sometimes, being assertive is all about making the first move – such as asking for a pay rise.

For example, let’s say you’ve worked at your company for some time and have been performing exceptionally well, but your boss hasn’t mentioned a salary increase. An assertive person would be able to confidently ask their boss for a pay rise and be able to back up the request with facts.

Alternatively, you may be a manager who needs to be more assertive. Your position might require you to talk to your team members if they are underperforming. Instead of chewing them out, or just letting things slide, an assertive person would take that team member aside and explain the situation in a way that doesn’t make them feel personally attacked, but also lets them understand the gravity of the situation.

Top 6 ways you can be more assertive at work (without being aggressive)

1.Say “no”

Are you guilty of taking on too many tasks at once? Understanding when and how you can say “no” to your colleagues and superiors is all a part of being assertive in the workplace. Can you reach a solution that benefits you both? Can you delegate some tasks to a colleague? Can the deadline be negotiated?

2. Always have the facts

Part of having confidence is knowing you’ve done all your research, and that you have all the facts and stats to back up any claims you make.

3. Stand up for yourself and your ideas

This flows on from the above point. If you face opposition from a colleague about something, backing your claims up with the facts will automatically put you in a good position to negotiate.

More than that, you should know that you’re a valuable part of your organisation, and that you deserve to be treated with respect.

4. Use positive and direct language

Even when dealing with a difficult or sensitive issue, it’s important not to default to negative language. If you’re confronting a colleague about their bad behaviour, it’s important to still approach the situation in a constructive way.

5. Be open to constructive criticism

On the flip side, what if someone wants to discuss your behaviour with you? Don’t immediately go on the defence – listen to what they have to say and be open to hearing about ways you could improve.

6.Learn about assertiveness techniques

If you’re ready to learn how to be a better communicator and different techniques for assertiveness, check out Open Colleges’ Professional Communications short course.

This course covers a range of different topics, including how to communicate without negative emotions and how to be a better active listener.


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