How To Be Assertive at Work in 7 Steps (With Tips)

Updated 17 November 2022

Assertiveness is one of the skills that can help you advance your career and achieve the professional goals that you want. Using the right amount of assertiveness in the workplace makes it easier to negotiate a salary, earn a promotion and build long-lasting relations with your co-workers. Some people are naturally assertive, but you can also learn to be assertive over time, so knowing what steps to take to be assertive is the key to success. In this article, we share how to be assertive at work in seven steps and explore how using it can help you succeed professionally.

What is assertiveness and how to be assertive at work

Assertiveness is a key communication skill that allows you to speak openly about yourself, your goals, opinions and ideas without worrying about what others might think about it. Being assertive is therefore having the confidence to express yourself freely and taking care of your personal and professional needs while staying respectful and appropriate. This skill is especially useful in the workplace. Assertive employees are typically more focused on accomplishing their goals and can easily say 'no' to things that limit their growth without feeling guilty.

Being assertive can help you better guide your career because it allows you to focus on your goals, talk openly about your plans, ask for help when you need it and recognise when someone's taking advantage of you in the workplace. Here are seven steps that can get you closer to becoming more assertive at work:

1. Work on your confidence

Learning how to be self-confident is an essential step in developing assertiveness because it makes it easier for you to advocate your ideas and opinions if you're not satisfied with the ideas of others. When you're confident, it's easier to receive criticism because you're not as tempted to take things personally. A proven technique to become more confident is looking back at your accomplishments and analysing them to see how your skills, experience and knowledge helped you achieve those things. This also allows you to learn more about yourself and your goals.

Related: How To Build Confidence at Work

2. Learn to communicate your needs

Learning to communicate your needs may take some time, but it's a critical element of becoming assertive. Effectively articulating yourself is not only beneficial for your career, but it can also help you better perform tasks that directly relate to your employer's success. To improve your ability to clearly communicate your needs, you can analyse how you've been approaching conversations in the workplace in the past and improve your communication technique.

Consider starting conversations by providing a concise description of the issue you want to address. Be sure to stay as objective as possible and share facts rather than your interpretation. For instance, if you're feeling uncomfortable working in an open space office, you may explain how working alone or from home makes you more productive and provide proof of how you successfully completed an important task while working in a quiet environment. This way, you can easily communicate your needs to a co-worker or supervisor in a way that directly translates to your role at the company.

Related: 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively at Work

3. Discover your boundaries

Knowing your limits is important for your well-being at work. Although learning to say 'no' to your colleagues or supervisors may be difficult to learn, it can be useful in situations when someone's expecting from you more than you can handle. Setting clear boundaries is also essential in maintaining a healthy work-life balance because it helps you protect your time and manage the workload more effectively.

To figure out your limitations, listen to your thoughts to understand what situations make you feel uncomfortable or overworked. You can also work on identifying what matters the most to you in life. For example, if your goal is to pay off your student loan within the next two years, you can calculate how many hours you want to work each month to save for that and communicate to your manager that you're not interested in working more than this limit.

Related: Creating a Healthy Corporate Culture

4. Acknowledged that you can only control your behaviour

Acknowledging that you're only responsible for your own behaviour can help you stay calm even during some of the most stressful situations at work. It's important to understand that because this way, you can continue working towards your goals without letting the opinions of others ruin your mood or make you start questioning your skills. If someone misinterprets your assertive behaviour by getting angry or resentful, you can avoid confronting them and just stay calm and respectful.

5. Understand the difference between assertive and aggressive

Understanding the difference between assertiveness and aggression can help you avoid situations when things get tense between you and your co-workers. The main difference between these two things is that while expressing assertive behaviour, you remain empathetic and respectful of others. Aggression, on the other hand, is typically one-sided behaviour that makes maintaining positive working relationships impossible.

6. Use assertive language

Using assertive language is a great way to boost your confidence while expressing your needs or saying 'no' to someone. Assertive communication is typically tactful, direct, honest, appropriate to the situation and makes it easy for you to show respect while advocating for yourself. To sound and look more assertive, you can use a steady and calm voice and maintain passive eye contact with your conversation partner.

It's also important to use one-word terms to describe feelings, such as anxious, happy, frustrated, as this makes your communication clearer. When formulating your responses, consider using 'I' statements, for example: 'When you ask me to cover your shift, I always feel anxious.' To communicate effectively while staying assertive, consider commenting on how you feel, explaining when you feel like this, mentioning what causes you to feel that way and sharing what solution you think could help.

7. Learn to receive compliments and criticism

One of the easiest ways to tell someone's level of assertiveness is by seeing how they react to criticism and compliments. Typically, assertive people can humbly accept both negative and positive comments without reacting in an emotional way, even if they disagree with those comments. This is because they understand and respect the fact that everyone's opinion can be different, but stick to what they believe in.

Related: How To Give Constructive Criticism

Benefits of being assertive at work

There are many benefits to being assertive at work, for example:

You improve your self-esteem

Being assertive and sticking to your beliefs makes it easier to gain an understanding of who you are and the value that you have. In other words, it makes you feel empowered and more self-assured. This benefit of assertiveness is especially important if you're aiming to advance to a leadership role. Typically, assertive employees make better leaders because they can delegate tasks and manage teams while showing empathy and respecting other people's boundaries.

You contribute more to the group

When you're assertive at work, you're not afraid to disagree with someone's opinion if you think there's a better solution to a problem. Openly and confidently sharing your ideas can increase your productivity and allows you to contribute more to the group. This is because when you become confident about the value that you have to offer and feel comfortable expressing your honest thoughts, you may unlock your full potential and creativity.

Related: How to Be Flexible at Work (With Steps)

You manage stress easier

When you're assertive, you feel confident in expressing your concerns and contributing to resolving problems at work. Thanks to your assertiveness, you can calmly take care of interpersonal issues when they arise because you're not afraid of respectfully and tactfully confronting someone. All of this contributes to creating a healthier, more positive work environment and helps you better manage stress.

Additional tips for improving assertiveness

Here are some additional tips that may make strengthening your assertiveness skills easier:

  • Take your time. To some people, being assertive at work comes naturally, and others may require more time to learn how to voice their needs. Be patient about your progress, and be sure to reward yourself every once in a while to maintain motivation.

  • Talk to someone about it. Learning new skills and investing in your growth may be a dynamic and challenging process. Having someone to talk to about your concerns who'd support you unconditionally can help you quickly adapt to new situations and mindsets.

  • Stay positive. Assertiveness at work is all about achieving your professional goals and asking for the things you want while creating a positive environment. When speaking up, consider using positive language that encourages others to succeed.

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