Working with people; not against them
12 Apr. 2018

Assertiveness is not necessarily easy, but it is a skill that can be learned. Developing your assertiveness starts with a good understanding of who you are and a belief in the value you bring. When you have that, you have the basis of self-confidence. When you act assertively you act fairly and with empathy. The power you use comes from your self-assurance and not from intimidation or bullying. When you treat others with such fairness and respect, you get that same treatment in return. You are well liked and people see you as a leader and someone they want to work with.

It’s not always easy to identify truly assertive behaviour. This is because there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. So, some definitions are helpful when trying to separate the two:

Assertiveness is based on balance – it requires being forthright about your wants and needs while still considering the rights, needs, and wants of others. When you are assertive, you ask for what you want but you don’t necessarily get it.

Aggressive behaviour is based on winning – it requires that you do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others. When you are aggressive, you take what you want regardless, and you don’t usually ask.

Assertiveness helps to build on that self-confidence and provides many other benefits for improving your relationships at work and in other areas of your life as well. In general, assertive people:

  • Get to “win-win” more easily – they see the value in their opponent and in his/her position, and can quickly find common ground.
  • Are better problem solvers – they feel empowered to do whatever it takes to find the best solution.
  • Are less stressed – they know they have personal power and they don’t feel threatened or victimised when things don’t go as planned or expected.
  • Are doers – they get things done because they know they can.

Developing Your Assertiveness

Some people are naturally more assertive than others. If your disposition tends more towards being either passive or aggressive, you may need to work on the following skills to develop your assertiveness.

Value yourself and your rights:

  • Understand that your rights, thoughts, feelings, needs and desires are just as important as everyone else’s
  • But remember they are not more important than anyone else’s, either
  • Recognise your rights and protect them
  • Believe you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at all times
  • Stop apologising for everything

 Identify your needs and wants, and ask for them to be satisfied: 

  • Don’t wait for someone to recognize what you need (you might wait forever!)
  • Understand that to perform to your full potential, your needs must be met
  • Find ways to get your needs met without sacrificing others’ needs in the process
  • Acknowledge that people are responsible for their own behaviour. Don’t make the mistake of accepting responsibility for the how people react to your assertive statements (e.g. anger, resentment). You can only control yourself. As long as you are not violating someone else’s needs, then you have the right to say or do what you want

Express negative thoughts and feelings in a healthy and positive manner:

  • Allow yourself to be angry, but always be respectful
  • Do say what’s on your mind, but do it in a way that protects the other person’s feelings
  • Control your emotions
  • Stand up for yourself and confront people who challenge you and/or your rights.

Receive criticism and compliments positively:

  • Accept compliments graciously
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes and ask for help
  • Accept feedback positively – be prepared to say you don’t agree but do not get defensive or angry.

Learn to say “No” when you need to. This is the grand-daddy of assertiveness!

  • Know your limits and what will cause you to feel taken advantage of
  • Know that you can’t do everything or please everyone and learn to be OK with that
  • Go with what is right for you
  • Suggest an alternative for a win-win solution

Assertive Communication Techniques

There are a variety of ways to communicate assertively. By understanding how to be assertive, you can quickly adapt these techniques to any situation you are facing.

I statements
Use “I want.”, “I need.” or “I feel.” to convey basic assertions.
Example: I feel strongly that we need to bring in a third party to mediate this disagreement.

Empathic Assertion
First, recognize how the other person views the situation.
Example: I understand you are having trouble working with Arlene.

Then, express what you need:
Example: …however, this project needs to be completed by Friday. Let’s all sit down and come up with a plan to get it done.

Escalating Assertion
This type of assertiveness is necessary when your first attempts are not successful in getting your needs met. The technique involves getting more and more firm as time goes on. It may end in you telling the person what you will do next if you do not receive satisfaction. Remember though, regardless of the consequences you give, you may not get what you want in the end.

Example: John, this is the third time this week I’ve had to speak to you about arriving late. If you are late one more time this month, I will activate the disciplinary process.

Ask For More Time
Sometimes, you just need to put off saying anything. You might be too emotional or you might really not know what you want. Be honest and tell the person you need a few minutes to compose your thoughts.
Example: Dave, your request has caught me off guard. I’ll get back to you within the half hour.

Change Your Verbs
• Use ‘won’t’ instead of can’t’
• Use ‘want’ instead of ‘need’
• Use ‘choose to’ instead of ‘have to’
• Use ‘could’ instead of ‘should’.

Being assertive means knowing where the fine line is between assertion and aggression and balancing on it. It means having a strong sense of yourself and acknowledging that you deserve to get what you want. And it means standing up for yourself even in the most difficult situations.

Assertiveness can be learned and developed, and although it won’t happen overnight, by practising the techniques presented here you will slowly become more confident in expressing your needs and wants. As your assertiveness improves, so will your productivity and efficiency. Start today and begin to see how being assertive allows you to work with people to accomplish tasks, solve problems, and reach solutions.


Talk to a PeopleScape team member today about how to build helpful assertive behaviours in your team.