How to be assertive

Practical advice on work issues.

Assertive behaviour is all too often confused with aggressive behaviour yet the two are very different. Being assertive is asserting or confirming confidently and being positive. Being aggressive is making the first attack, being offensive or hostile. What image would you rather project at work?

Being assertive at work means you have the ability to stand up for yourself, state what you think, tackle issues directly and not be trampled on by others. It is far more likely to lead to success and job fulfilment than aggressive or non-assertive behaviour.

1 Why think about it?
If you lack confidence and have problems asserting yourself  at work  it can be a real problem. Lack of assertiveness can lead to being overlooked for promotions, not being listened to properly in meetings or having too much work dumped on to you. If you go for a promotion, for example, and someone else with similar skills and experience also goes for the same job but are more assertive, chances are they will be chosen over you. 

2 Reflect
If you feel a lack of assertiveness is holding you back, think about why it is happening. Do certain situations or individuals make you feel unassertive? If so, why? “People who are non-assertive get triggered by somebody or particular situations that make them feel inadequate and then it’s hard to get in control,” says Jo Ouston, specialist in career development. Is it that your opinions are not listened to and you get flustered in meetings? Or is it that your boss always talks over you and keeps piling on the work, even though you say you have too much on? If you can identify the problem areas and any triggers it makes it easier to change your behaviour.

3 Breathe properly
“The first step to assertive behaviour is to get in control of yourself,” says Ouston.  “To do this, you have to breathe properly.” If you ensure you are breathing properly, she says you will automatically calm yourself and feel more in control. When people feel out of control, their breathing often becomes more shallow, they might blush, sweat or start talking too fast. Ouston thinks breathing properly can help overcome all these physical symptoms of unassertiveness.

4 Think about what you want to achieve
If you feel your lack of assertiveness is holding you back, then think about how you are going to change that. Does it mean talking to your boss about taking on more responsibility or more high profile work rather than the mundane stuff? If you need to improve your performance at meetings, think about how you can make yourself feel more con fident in those meetings. If there is an important meeting coming up, think about what you have to offer and what you might say so you feel prepared and confident in your views.

5 Watch others
Take a look at your colleagues. If there are some people who always seem to do well and their views are respected, look at their behaviour. You don’t want to emulate their behaviour necessarily but it’s worth noting what works for others. Similarly, look at people who also suffer from lack of assertiveness and how they appear to others. It may help you decide what aspects of your own behaviour need improving.

6 Get trained
Some companies provide training in assertive behaviour. It doesn’t have to be a course specifically on assertive behaviour – although it could be – as many management training courses and presentation courses cover this. Any training is actually good because it should help your skills and confidence in your skills. You could also consider doing an external course if your company doesn’t offer any training you think would help.


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