Assertiveness in the Workplace: Pros, Cons and How To Be More Assertive

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 1, 2021

Assertiveness is an essential communication tool to express your opinions respectfully. Practicing assertiveness can boost your self-esteem and help you implement positive changes in your organization. As an employee, it's important to understand how to create an assertive delivery that is easy for your audience to understand. In this article, we explain the definition and importance of assertiveness and guidance for exhibiting assertive behavior in the workplace.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is an emotion that enables professionals to express their opinions and respect their colleague's perspectives simultaneously. Employees can defend their ideals while maintaining positive connections with teammates and managers. Unlike aggression, assertiveness considers how others feel.

It's also different from passiveness because of its firm delivery of a message. To practice assertiveness, employees find a balance between acquiescing others' requests and satisfying their own interests.

Read more: Q&A: What Is Assertive Communication?

Why is assertiveness important?

Assertiveness is important to fostering meaningful workplace relationships. You can feel comfortable expressing your opinion, even if it's different from your coworkers. Showing respect for other's viewpoints can enable you to resolve disagreements and work together efficiently. Assertiveness can materialize differently depending on your hierarchical role:

Assertiveness for employees

Employees often use assertive techniques to communicate firmly and respectfully with supervisors and teammates. Here are examples of when you might want to be assertive at work:

  • Asking your manager for a raise: Employees can assure their manager they're committed to their role while explaining that their work responsibilities warrant an increase in salary.

  • Vetoing a decision from the group: Perhaps the team reached a conclusion where one member disagreed. The team member can provide evidence for a contrary viewpoint and remain open to their teammates' consideration.

  • Establishing an alternative approach to a task: Suppose an employee creates a more efficient way to handle work tasks. They can show appreciation and respect for previous traditions while describing how their strategy can benefit the organization.

Assertiveness for managers

As a manager, it's also important to be assertive to make clear expectations for your employees. You can demonstrate your authority and welcome fresh perspectives to make the work environment more productive. Here are examples of instances where assertiveness might be necessary:

  • Assigning tasks to employees: Supervisors can explain why they delegated a specific project to an employee. For example, you can be firm about monitoring their work performance and assure them the task can promote professional growth.

  • Taking responsibility for their actions: An assertive leader is transparent and remorseful about their mistakes. They are also receptive to constructive criticism and are willing to improve.

  • Remaining calm in unexpected situations: Assertiveness can enable a project manager to reassure employees during a crisis. It involves being firm in how to proceed while empathizing with the concerns of the team.

Pros of assertiveness

Being assertive at work can produce benefits, such as:

  • Increased confidence: Employees who successfully defend themselves at work can feel more confident in their communication skills, which can increase their self-esteem.

  • Efficient collaboration: Teammates that resolve disagreements assertively can learn from one another and feel comfortable providing recommendations.

  • Respect for authority: Assertive managers can enhance their leadership style among their staff. They are clear and confident with their directions, and their team understands the manager listens to their thoughts.

Related: How To Be More Confident At Work

Cons of assertiveness

There are also consequences of not asserting yourself in the workplace. They include:

  • Lack of clear direction: Managers who don't sustain their authority can cause confusion when delegating tasks. It's essential that they hold their team accountable and address their needs.

  • More interpersonal conflict: An employee who doesn't project their opinions may continue to be dissatisfied with the work environment, which can increase disagreements among teammates. Acknowledging everyone's perspective can reduce tension, even if the team proceeds in a different direction.

  • Enhanced sensitivity to criticism: Professionals who are unassertive may also feel less confident, making them more vulnerable to feedback. It might be helpful for employees to practice being assertive so they can see the value of their thoughts.

How to be assertive in the workplace

Follow these practices to assert yourself in the professional environment:

1. Use appropriate body language

Body language refers to the stance and gestures you use when describing your thoughts. It's important that your nonverbal cues match your words and reinforce your firmness. An employee that senses your confidence from your stance may feel more inclined to listen to your verbal messages.

As you discuss your point of view, consider standing up straight and delivering direct eye contact. You can show your conversational partner that you're actively listening to the conversation and are passionate about your perspective. Remember to avoid crossing your arms over your chest, which can represent aggression, and fidgeting with your fingers, which can represent nervousness. Instead, relax your hands and your shoulders so your body doesn't distract from the words coming out of your mouth.

Read more: Assertive Skills: Definitions, Tips and Examples

2. State your opinion clearly

Effective communication is a significant element of being assertive. An employee may trust your judgment if you state your opinion in a way for them to understand. Here are ways you can express yourself clearly:

  • Know your audience. Tailor your message to match the professional background of your conversational partner. For example, if you're speaking with a manager, you might use more technical language.

  • Be concise. Being concise can help you maintain the attention span of your audience. Avoid fluff and explain your points directly, respecting the time of your colleague.

  • Use specific wording. Make sure your coworker has a thorough comprehension of your message. Consider using numbers or proper names to further illustrate your perspective.

3. Anticipate potential pushback

Pushback refers to resistance your colleague may have to your assertion. Preparing for pushback can help you decide how to reinforce your point. As you practice your delivery, contemplate how your colleague may respond to your initial pitch. Anticipate the concerns they may express and strategize solutions to the problems. You can show your audience you've thought carefully about your perspective, and being firm in your counters can further display your assertiveness.

4. Be prepared to compromise

Compromising involves creating a solution that benefits both parties. It can demonstrate that you respect your coworker's opinions and are willing to sacrifice some of your ideals. Compromise can also maintain a positive relationship between you and your conversational partner.

When developing your argument, prioritize your firm ideals and ones with more flexibility. Monitor the climate of the conversation as it progressed. If you find your colleague remains resistant to your message, then consider volunteering your flexible ideals to end the conversation on a peaceful note.

5. Maintain a positive attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude can ease tension from interpersonal conflict. Here are occasions where it may be helpful to be optimistic:

  • Before you deliver your message: Thank them for their time. You can also ask them how they're doing to build rapport.

  • When you respond to your coworker's concerns: Assure your coworker that you understand and respect their opinions. Practice active listening to paraphrase their points before following up with your own.

  • After you reach an agreement: Thank your audience again for meeting with you. Consider reminding them you look forward to working with them in the future.

Read more: Tips for How To Be More Assertive At Work

Tips for being assertive in the workplace

For additional guidance on exuding assertiveness in your position, consider using the following tips:

Find the right moment

The moment you choose to assert yourself can influence your audience's response. Choose an occasion that allows your colleague to hear and understand your viewpoint and provides enough time to reach an agreement. For example, scheduling a meeting can allow you to prepare your message in advance. Monitor the climate in your workspace to select the right moment to express your thoughts.

For managers, consider your staff members' needs before exerting your authority. For example, if you're delivering feedback on their work performance, select a time that allows you and them to speak privately, which shows you respect their autonomy.

Be mindful of your tone

As you defend your ideas, your tone can affect how your audience perceives your mood. For instance, a raised tone can mean you're becoming angry, while a soft tone can mean you're sad or timid. Find a balance that shows your coworker you're serious about your opinion but still approachable. Using a friendly tone can also help you maintain positivity during the conversation.

Write what you want to say

Writing your message can help you prepare your delivery. Transcribe the exact words you plan to say and read over them to ensure they flow well. Contemplate the directness of your message and how your audience may perceive it.

For example, if you find your message is too long, then omit a few words to make it more concise and easier to deliver. You can also ask a friend or mentor to read over your message and offer suggestions on how to improve it. Be sure to use your written word as a guide and avoid memorizing it, which can help your voice sound more natural for your delivery.

Use active verbs

Active verbs can make your perspective clearer, preventing your audience from misinterpreting it. Examples include:

  • Will

  • Want

  • Choose

  • Believe

  • Feel

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