9 Steps to Be More Assertive at Work in 2024

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People respond to situations in four different ways. These are passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and assertive.

Being assertive is the healthiest way to respond for both yourself and others… but that is often the least used method. Women in particular are often afraid to respond in an assertive manner.

This is because they are often conditioned to respond passively.  This is definitely a hindrance in the workplace.

At the other end of the spectrum, many men resort to being either overly aggressive or passive-aggressive. Why is that?

Today, we are going to discuss how being assertive is the most beneficial way to behave and how everyone can learn to navigate the workplace, and life, in this way.

What Does It Mean to Be Assertive?

Being assertive is best described as being able to stand up for yourself or others in a way that allows you to remain respectful of others' rights and feelings. This means that you stand up for your own wants and needs in a calm and positive manner… one that balances the wants, needs, rights, and feelings of everyone involved.

Assertiveness allows you to gain respect, yet give respect, to those you interact with. There are quite a few benefits to choosing to act in an assertive manner.

What Are the Benefits of Being Assertive? 

When you start being assertive, it may seem a bit awkward at first, but you will soon start to see the benefits that behaving in this way gives you. It will become so easy to execute, in fact, that eventually you won't believe you waited so long to practice assertiveness.

When you are assertive:

  • You find yourself less stressed.
  • You start earning the respect of those around you.
  • You are more likely to gain promotions at work.
  • You are looked to as a leader.
  • Your self-esteem starts to rise and you feel more confident.
  • Your anxiety is greatly reduced and even eliminated in some instances.
  • You start coming up with greater win-win solutions during a potential conflict and become seen as a great negotiator.
  • You begin to feel more authentic and you become valued by others.
  • You can handle both compliments and criticism easier.

Many people don't recognize when they are not active in an assertive manner but instead, behave in one of the other modes of reaction. Let's take a look at the differences

Assertiveness vs. Aggression

We are all familiar with aggressive people. This person seems to be the grown-up version of the class bully. They are rude, pushy, often loud, and very demanding. 

When you see this person, your first instinct is to go on guard or leave as quickly as possible. You don't feel safe around the aggressive individual.

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Assertiveness allows you to gain respect, yet give respect, to those you interact with.

Still, there are several major ways aggression and assertiveness differ… and it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two.

1. Aggression doesn't take others' feelings or viewpoints into consideration.

It's always “My way or the highway” with an aggressive person. Conversely, assertiveness takes into consideration the feelings and viewpoints of everyone involved.

Even when you end up doing what you feel is best for you; you only do so if nobody is harmed or disrespected.

2. When you approach a person with aggressiveness, they are automatically forced to react in a negative way, as they likely feel attacked.

This is where their survival instinct kicks in. Assertive out = assertive return.

When you approach them with assertiveness, however, they feel safe enough to listen and speak their minds as well.

3. An aggressive approach eliminates the possibility of a productive conversation.

This is because you approach by telling rather than asking.  Any attempt at communication by someone else appears as an attack.

Assertiveness allows others to disagree or refuse a request without thoughts of getting into a conflict.

4. Aggression often turns into manipulation.

The person who uses this approach bullies others into giving in to their demands.

Assertiveness is never manipulative, as you are taking the feelings of others into consideration and realize you can't control the actions of others – nor do you wish to.

5. Aggressiveness creates a situation where others feel unsafe or unheard.

If you are the victim of an aggressor, you don't feel supported or free to express yourself. This makes you feel as if engaging would be pointless or result in battle.

Assertiveness allows others to speak up and disagree; knowing their opinions and reasoning will be listened to and considered.

Assertiveness vs. Passiveness

The other extreme of the reaction continuum is passiveness. A passive person is likely to never speak up and give in to others without question. Passive people often end up feeling used and manipulated, not realizing they are allowing this kind of treatment.

This behavior is often a response to trauma and a wish to avoid conflict at all costs, even the cost of self-esteem. Assertiveness and passiveness differ in several ways.

1. Passivity sees a person just sitting back and allowing things to happen without input.

This includes things they would prefer to do differently. Or perhaps they lack the ability to stand up for someone else.  

Assertive behavior sees the person speaking up and saying they don't feel comfortable with the way things are preceding.

2. Passivity is always putting your wants or needs last, and sometimes not paying them any attention at all.

Assertiveness says that you are aware that someone needs or wants something and you are willing to permit that as long as it doesn't stomp out your needs and wants. 

3. When you are assertive, you are willing to speak your opinion when a subject holds importance to you.

A person who is exhibiting passive behavior won't speak up even if what is happening is against their beliefs or does harm to themselves or others.

4. Passivity takes decision-making away from you and gives it to anyone who is willing to take it.

The passive person allows others to have all the power over decisions.

The assertive person speaks up and says “I need to do this for me.” They are also willing to take responsibility if things don't go as they planned or if they unintentionally hurt someone.

5. Assertiveness allows you to have a higher sense of self-esteem as you know you are worthy of being heard and respected.

Passivity lowers your sense of self-worth because you always put everyone else first. You and they start to believe you aren't worth being placed first.

When You Should Be Assertive

Assertiveness is something you don't have to use all the time. There are times when it is better to walk away or allow the other person to have their wants or needs met.

If asserting yourself puts you in physical danger, it is better to leave it alone for now and get yourself into a safe place. If pushing a senseless issue would cause undue stress, then allowing the other person to have their way can make it possible to keep the communication channels open for a time when an issue is important. 

There are situations when being assertive is important. These include:

  • When someone steals credit for something you accomplished, such as a boss or coworker taking credit for your work.
  • Self-promotion, as long as it doesn't become bragging. You have the right to have your wins noticed.
  • When asking for something that you need or want that is within reason.
  • When communicating boundaries or saying no to something that you feel uncomfortable about.
  • When expressing your feelings or trying to convey emotions.
  • When you are standing up for yourself or others in the face of disrespect or someone's bad behavior.

Now, let's take a look at how to be more assertive at work.

How to Be More Assertive at Work

1. Know and enforce your boundaries.

Without boundaries, we become a person that others walk all over. They violate our wants, needs, and even rights. It is important to be aware of where your boundaries are and to make sure others not only know those boundaries but also respect them.

Remember, every time you allow someone to get away with violating your boundaries, they will do it again.

2. Use good eye contact and proper body language.

You don't want to try and stare a person down, but you want to meet their eyes and let them know you see and hear them. Don't go through life avoiding eye contact.

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Using good eye contact and proper body language can help in conveying your stances without appearing aggressive..

Learning proper body language helps you convey your stance without appearing aggressive. Assertive body language is:

  • Holding your arms loosely at your side and standing with your feet together or only shoulder-width apart.
  • Avoid crossing your arms and feet.
  • Hands should be open, with your palms up when possible.
  • Avoid tilting your head.
  • Keep your voice at a conversational volume and speak in a firm, calm, and pleasant manner.

3. Take accountability for your mistakes.

Be willing to admit when you are wrong without devaluing yourself or your efforts. Don't place blame on others, but don't sit and allow someone to place unfair blame on you.

Admit your mistakes, do your best to make amends, and then let it go. 

4. Express your opinions in a direct and clear manner.

We all have opinions and all want to be heard. Be willing to speak up and share your opinions and let others know what you think about things. Maybe they won't agree.

You can't control how others think and act. But in the end, they might see things as you do. They may consider how you feel. They can't do that if you don't share your thoughts, feelings, and needs.

5. Use “I” statements whenever possible.

Avoid making a statement about the other person, especially if it is negative. Instead of ‘You need to” or “You should”, try using statements such as “I need” and “I would like to”.

So often, especially in a disagreement, you statements trigger a defensive reaction. Take ownership of your thoughts, feelings, and wishes.

6. Get in the habit of saying “no”.

How often do you find yourself agreeing to something only because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings or cause conflict? You can't be everything to everyone, nor should you have to.

Get into the habit of saying no to things that may cause you inconvenience, or things that go against what you believe.  

7. Stay aware of your emotions.

When something doesn't feel right or you feel triggered, ask yourself if you are acting out of hurt or anger. Neither has a place in being assertive. Try practicing being in a mindful state and becoming aware of what emotions you are feeling at any given time.

Learn to observe these emotions without judgment. If you are about to react from a place other than calm, take a few moments to practice getting your emotions under control before responding.

8. Be willing to listen.

In order to take another person's needs and wants into consideration, you need to take the time to listen to what they are saying. Practice learning to listen with the intent of learning, not responding.

Learning to truly listen so you hear what someone else is saying may take practice, but it is worth the effort. In the end, they are more inclined to also listen when you speak.

9. Avoid using weak language.

Do you know someone who seems to apologize all the time? This is often a sign of passivity. Learn not to apologize for speaking your needs. Other signs of passivity are hesitation before speaking up or using phrases such as “I may be asking for too much”.

As long as you know you are speaking up about something that directly affects your well-being or peace of mind, don't apologize, and don't try to minimize its importance.

Final Thoughts on How to Be More Assertive at Work

By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what assertiveness is and how to react in a manner that is neither overly passive nor overly aggressive. You are a human who has wants and needs just as every other person does.

Being assertive allows others to know that you value both yourself and them. Learning to communicate properly can save you from many unnecessary conflicts, while still allowing you to feel valued.

As you develop greater self-esteem, you will find that assertive behavior carries over into all areas of life. You are worth the effort.

Finally, if you want to level up your productivity and time management skills, then watch this free video about the 9 productivity habits you can build at work.

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