SELF HELP RESOURCE - Work / Workplace Relationships


Does being able to say ‘NO’ without hesitation determine how assertive you are?

Would being able to fight to get your way make you assertive?

Could appearing cooperative while subtly undermining others be counted as assertive behavior? 

If not, then what really is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a communication skill through which people are able to clearly convey their own needs, feelings and opinions. It involves maintaining the delicate balance between speaking up for one’s needs, and at the same time, being respectful of the needs and feelings of others.

People who are able to master this skill are less likely to be vulnerable to emotional difficulties such as anxiety or depression, have higher self-esteem and confidence, and can foster healthier personal and professional relationships. Being assertive also enhances one’s ability to manage conflicts effectively, negotiate ‘win-win’ solutions, treat others fairly, and take on challenges proactively, which are important assets to have in any workspace.

Most importantly, when people communicate assertively about what they need, it can make them feel empowered as it improves their chances of fulfilling their needs from life without hurting others.

Signs of Non-Assertive Communication

Given the benefits that can come from being assertive, it is important for people to be able to identify when they need to consider improving upon this skill. People who struggle with assertiveness are more likely to find that they -

  • Have difficulty saying 'no', especially to their higher-ups 

  • Speak softly, apologize often, discount their ideas, offer excessive justifications before presenting them (for e.g., Saying "I don't think this will work but (…)", "this may sound stupid"), and so on 

  • Feel like others often take them for granted and don’t take their feelings into consideration 

  • Can become overly defensive and blame or criticise others when cornered 

  • Try to dominate, intimidate, threaten, humiliate, or control others 

  • Want to have the last word  

  • Appear to cooperate but subtly undermine, resent and sabotage others 

  • Use sarcasm, make snide comments, or mutter to themselves rather than confront the issue 

  • Have difficulties acknowledging their anger and deny that there is a problem

Strategies to Improve Assertiveness at the Workplace

If some of the signs mentioned above hold true for you or your colleagues, it can create tension, affect morale, and drain the output of the workspace as a whole. In such a situation, the following strategies can help with increasing assertive communication.

  1. Identify the value you and your colleagues bring to your workplace: When you are able to recognize your own and others' value in the organization, it can give you the confidence to stand up for everyone's needs.
  2. Name your feelings: Acknowledging your feelings and labelling them accurately can help you express them instead of suppressing them, letting them fester, or have them come out in a sudden unexpected outburst.
  3. Learn to communicate your needs and requests clearly: When communicating your needs and requests, being specific, crisp, and sticking to the facts can help you be more assertive.
  4. Establish and protect your boundaries: Realistically appraising your limits and what causes you discomfort can alert you in situations where you need to set boundaries. Protecting your boundaries in a polite, firm, unapologetic, and calm manner can be an essential milestone in learning how to be assertive.
  5. Use "I" instead of "You" statements: Using "You" statements can come across as blaming others and bring out one's defensiveness, whereas "I" statements can help people feel more at ease and empathise with you. Instead of saying, "You need to start respecting deadlines better", you could say something along the lines of, "I would really like it if you could respect the deadlines for the work given". It is a constructive way of expressing your honest feelings and opinions while being respectful towards the other person.
  6. Practice active listening: Consciously making an effort to listen to the other side of the argument can help you not only arrive at the best possible solution for all but can also prevent you from feeling underconfident in such conversations, thinking of retorts while others are talking, or getting too angry and resentful.
  7. Acknowledge that you can't control or 'fix' other's behaviors, but can change yours: Being too focused on how other people will react, think or feel about your assertions may at times prevent you from asserting yourselves. However, it’s important to remember that you can’t take responsibility for others’ emotions and reactions, just your own.

There may be times when you try being assertive but the situation doesn't work out as you had hoped. In such scenarios, it's important to remain patient and remind yourself that assertiveness is a skill that will develop with practice.

Latest Comments

mad900 on 15 Feb 2023, 12:13 PM

Very useful read, especially about keeping a calm tone, and using I statements - Madhav

Emesjey1to1 on 24 Apr 2021, 15:43 PM

short, crisp and a pointed note...