Tips for How to Be Assertive at Work

Updated January 13, 2023

Many skills can help you advance your career and achieve the professional success you want. One of those skills is knowing when and how to be assertive without being aggressive. Using the right amount of assertiveness in the workplace can help you negotiate a higher salary, earn a promotion and establish better relations with your colleagues. In this article, we discuss the benefits of assertiveness in the workplace, how assertiveness is different than aggressiveness and how to develop the assertiveness skills needed to help you be successful in your career.

What is assertiveness in the workplace?

Assertiveness in the workplace is a key communication skill that allows you to speak up for yourself in a manner that is respectful and appropriate for the work environment. Assertiveness means being confident in communicating your skills, abilities and goals without being pushy. Assertive people can effectively advocate for themselves and their interests. Assertive people are not seeking better treatment than anyone else, they are simply asking for the respect they deserve. Assertive people also know when and how to say no to a request.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

How is being assertive different from being aggressive?

Sometimes people may misunderstand the meaning of assertiveness and how it is different from being aggressive. However, understanding this difference is very important to your career success. Unlike aggressiveness—which is marked by obtrusive energy and initiative—being assertive means being able to effectively communicate your needs and emotions and achieve the results you desire while also being empathetic about the needs and desires of others. Someone who is assertive is still able to create and maintain positive working relationships.

Related: How to Build Self Confidence: 5 Key Tips

Benefits of being assertive in the workplace

Being assertive in the right way at work can have many advantages for you, your team and your company as a whole. The benefits of appropriate workplace assertiveness include:

Self-esteem and self-confidence improve

As you become more acquainted with the value you have to offer and who you are, you will also feel better about yourself and your performance at work.

Greater contributions to team performance

When each member of a team is confident that their team members will communicate with positive feedback when the project is going well and with constructive feedback when improvements are needed, better team performance is the result. Assertiveness helps you make sure there are positive lines of communication in your team and that each member, including you, is contributing to the overall success.

Stress management skills improve

When you are assertive, you feel confident in expressing your concerns and contributing to resolving problems or issues. You also feel empowered to respectfully and calmly cope with interpersonal issues as they arise. All of this contributes to minimizing stress and creating a healthier, more positive work environment for everyone.

Related: How to Overcome Fear of Failure

How to develop assertiveness skills

If you are someone who is naturally more passive and would like to hone your assertiveness skills, there are several things you can do to improve in this area and confidently stand up for yourself. Follow these steps to help you develop your workplace assertiveness skills:

  1. Improve your self confidence.

  2. Communicate your needs confidently.

  3. Understand you can only control your behavior.

  4. Practice being assertive. 

1. Improve your self-confidence

Developing self-confidence is critical to learning to be assertive. Self-confidence helps you feel comfortable advocating for yourself rather than being guided by the views and opinions of others. One way to enhance this skill is to learn more about yourself. Taking the time to really think about what your goals are and why you deserve to accomplish those goals can help you feel more confident about your skills and abilities. When you realize you deserve to be just as happy as anyone else, it can help you gain the confidence you need to stand up for yourself.

You can also try to better understand your feelings and take action to do the things that make you feel good about yourself as well as encourage you to perform your best. Recognizing that your feelings, needs, rights and contributions are just as important as anyone else’s helps you become more confident and assertive.

2. Communicate your needs confidently

Advocating for yourself is not just about having a better experience or feeling better. It also enables you to perform to your fullest potential and is a contribution to both you and your entire company. Knowing that being assertive helps both you and your company be successful can make you more comfortable and enable you to confidently speak up about your needs. If you recognize that you are missing something that you need to perform your best and be successful, speak up for yourself rather than hoping someone else—like a supervisor—will recognize it.

You can practice doing this by communicating with colleagues and leadership about the resources and things you need to help you complete a project or accomplish a goal. Once you have made your needs clear, follow up to make sure those needs are met appropriately. If there is something you feel would be helpful to you but isn’t an option to be provided at the moment, politely ask if the decision can be revisited in the future.

3. Understand you can only control your behavior

It is important to know that you can’t control the actions of others. If someone in the workplace has misinterpreted your assertiveness, you can only control how you advocate for yourself. As long as you remain respectful and empathetic of other people’s time and needs, there is nothing wrong with advocating for your own rights and needs in the workplace.

4. Practice being assertive

Just as any other skill you seek to develop, the best way to successfully become more assertive at work is to practice doing just that in common workplace scenarios before they occur at work. For example, you can role-play with a friend or family member to make sure you are prepared for the different responses you may receive and to assure you are advocating for yourself in a way that will elicit a positive response. 

While you are practicing, focus on actively listening to the needs and feelings of others while creating an open dialogue about your own needs. Practicing being assertive in typical work scenarios should help you feel more comfortable and help you remain calm and polite when addressing the same scenarios in your workplace.

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