How to be Assertive at Work

Assertiveness means being forthright about what you need or want, while taking into consideration the wants, needs and rights of others. It needs to be distinguished from aggressive behavior where one acts without regard for the desires and feelings of others. The first step towards being assertive is knowing who you are and appreciating the value you offer. This in return allows you to develop self-confidence.

Here are some tips which will help you build your assertiveness:

1. Value yourself and recognize your rights

Appreciate that your rights, desires, needs, feelings and thoughts matter just as anyone else’s. Therefore, you need to take measures to protect your rights. At all times, you should demand to be treated with dignity and respect. However, be ready to treat other people in the same way.

2. Demand for your needs to be met

To be performing effectively in your career, you need to have your needs met. This could be the need for additional time, resources or even respect. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for other people to recognize your need since they might not. Instead, learn to speak up and articulate what you want. However, avoid the temptation to get your needs met at the expense of other’s needs.

3. Express negative feelings respectfully

Assertive people should be able to stand up for themselves and confront individuals who violate their rights. However, even when you have negative feelings such as anger, be sure to express yourself in a positive and healthy way. Be mindful of the other person’s feelings as you say what is on your mind.

4. Receive criticism positively

You need to learn how to receive negative feedback without getting angry or defensive. If the criticism is justified, take responsibility and ask for help where necessary. However, if is unfair, be sure to voice your disagreement in a respectful way. Besides receiving criticism, you also need to learn how to accept compliments graciously.

5. Learn to say ‘No’

Know your limits and accept that you can’t please everyone or do everything. It is therefore very important to learn to say ‘No’ when you feel someone is taking advantage of you. However, you could suggest a mutually beneficial solution.

Here are a few tips for communicating assertively:

  • Use ‘I’ statements

Use ‘I feel’, ‘I need’ or ‘I want’ to convey your thoughts. For instance, ‘I want this project completed within the next three weeks’.

  • Apply empathy

Find a way of identifying with the other person’s feelings about the situation. For example, ‘I understand that you’ve had a long weekend. However, this report needs to be completed by the end of the day’.

  • Use the right verbs

Use ‘won’t’ rather than ‘can’t’

Use ‘choose to’ rather than ‘have to’

Use ‘want’ rather than ‘need’

Use ‘could’ rather than ‘should’

Though it is not easy, everyone can learn to be assertive. However, this will not happen overnight. As you consistently apply the tips above, you will gradually find it easier to express your wants and needs.


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