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10 Ways to Be More Assertive

June 7, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Assertiveness with 1 Comment

10 Ways to Be More Assertive

We may all aspire to be more assertive but how do we go about doing this? Perhaps first and foremost we need to have a good awareness of what it means to be assertive in practical terms (as it is often confused with being mildly aggressive).  Assertive people:

  1. Feel empowered. They do not feel that they are unjustly controlled by others.
  2. Are proactive – that is, they make things happen, and are not reactive – always waiting to see how they will respond to the words and actions of others.
  3. Know their rights and responsibilities in dealing with others.
  4. Are able to resist the aggressive, manipulative and passive ploys of other people and makes themselves heard where necessary and appropriate.

Given the above, there are a number of practical strategies that we can adopt to be more assertive. Below are ten that should help every individual:

1. Think positively about all of your future communications

Before we can even begin to be more assertive in real life work situations, it is important to imagine what it would be like to be assertive in all the circumstances in which you wish this were the case. This positive thinking process should ideally involve mental planning (even to the point of writing out assertive responses you wish to give) so that a winning outcome can be imagined. The more that you can think positively, the more ready you will be when the real need arises. 

2. Practice more assertive communications

Once an individual has started to establish some mental confidence through positive thinking about the situations they are likely to encounter, it is important to take this preparation process to the next stage by practicing actual assertive approaches you wish to make. One way in which to do this is to practice your assertive comments in front of a mirror. It is important to pay attention to your body language as well as to the words you use. A further step in practicing is role-playing with a friend or colleague (who can at least respond in an aggressive or passive aggressive way in order to create more realism). 

3. Carefully observe the body language of others

One way to improve our own assertiveness skills is by observing others. This is particularly true when it comes to the kind of body language that assertive colleagues around you are likely to use (and which may guide you to avoid the less than assertive body language that you may be adopting). The colleagues are likely to make good eye contact, stand up straight and face on when talking and not fidgeting at all, for example. Look closely in the future and start to make small adjustments to your own approach. 

4. Speak up firmly whenever appropriate

A major part of being more assertive for most people is to talk or speak up more often when the opportunity presents itself. This does not mean “butting in” to conversations or speaking for the sake of doing so. However, it does mean voicing an opinion when you have one and bringing up ideas and thoughts you have whenever appropriate. This “speaking up” process should be done quietly but confidently and without coming across as strident and pushy. Start with short comments until you your confidence grows and build from there. 

5. Avoid apologizing for making comments which are fair and constructive

People who lack assertiveness often  seek to a apologize for making a comment, even when that comment may be valuable, fair, justified, illuminating, practical, helpful and many other positive things. Individuals should therefore look to guard against saying anything apologetic unless he or she has truly said something to be sorry for. Hence “I’m sorry to have to say this but I think there may be another approach we might consider” becomes “I have another approach I’d like to share with you that may be very helpful”. 

6. Closely observe the assertive communication behavior of assertive others around you

In the normal course of your work, individuals are likely to come across people who are naturally assertive. A useful approach here is therefore to closely observe the behavior and technique that such people take when communicating with others. This will include not only what they say, but also how they say it (including the body language that goes along with delivering the message as we said in point three). Watch and learn! 

7. Start to develop key personal boundaries in your life

Aggressive people will often take advantage of individuals who are not assertive enough, or expect such individuals to sacrifice their own needs at the expense of other people. The way to start combatting this problem is to learn to say “no” more often, especially if you cannot easily help, or are asked to do something that is not your job or responsibility. This is the simple process of knowing want you can and cannot readily do or having clear boundaries. And the more you politely describe these boundaries to others (and especially the more aggressive colleagues around you) the better. 

8. Listen carefully but then aim for open and honest communication

Many individuals assume that being more assertive is mostly about talking more and doing so more forcefully. However, it is much more about listening carefully to others (and trying to understand where they are really coming from) and then responding in open and honest ways. In other words, an assertive person always seeks to know others and themselves as much as they can. 

9. Agree to disagree

On occasions, your improving assertiveness skills will not work as well as you’d like and aggressive people or passive-aggressive people will irritate or get to you. This is not a time to withdraw and slink away to lick your wounds but to stand up firmly, stick to you viewpoint and just agree to disagree. Hence you might say: “I fully understand from what you have said that you see things differently but criticizing my view will not make me change it-we’ll just have to agree to disagree”. Always remember however that agreeing to have a different point of view doesn’t mean you are right and the other person is wrong. 

10. Don’t compromise your values

Being more assertive is not a formula to learn-it will be different for every single person and should always be a good fit with an individual’s personality, character and values. In other words, the aim is to be a more assertive version of yourself, not be a different person altogether. Hence, experiment with your encounters a little at a time, be patient with yourself and don’t let your mistakes set you back-these are the best learning opportunities of all.

There are many benefits to being more assertive in the workplace but these 10 strategies both singly and in combination will make a significant difference.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon is Editor-in-chief of ReadyToManage, Inc. and can be reached at Jon@OD-center.org

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One Comment

  1. Bernadette BoasJune 8, 2013 at 4:59 pmReply

    People become more assertive when they are confident in themselves, what it is they are asking for or involving themselves in, when they know what they want, and they believe they deserve it……

    Aggression is simply a sign of insecurity, uncertainty, negativity, etc.. one is masking.

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Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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