How to assert yourself at work

How to be more assertive at work


Regardless of whether you’re in a managerial position or not, the ability to assert yourself in the workplace is invaluable. When you need to communicate with your managers and superiors, being confident and able to stand up for yourself is vital. But, when the roles are switched and you need to direct and manage team members who report to you, being decisive and assured in your decisions is equally crucial.

Assertiveness isn’t about being bossy, overpowering or rude. It’s about advocating for yourself for the benefit of yourself and your team at large. As explained by Mayo Clinic, improving your self-confidence and capacity for being your own champion can make you better able to reduce stress and anxiety around decision-making and any workplace-related issues such as interpersonal conflict with colleagues or members of management.

Learning how to assert yourself in a healthy and constructive way can also build on your leadership skills irrespective of whether you’re in a leadership position. Enhancing your assertiveness is also good for your self-esteem and belief in your abilities. As noted by Indeed, beyond improved self-esteem, mental health and management skills, being assertive can also help you negotiate promotions, higher salaries or bonuses and other benefits and career advancement opportunities.

Here are some tips to help you learn how to assert yourself at work:

1) Learn what assertiveness is

The first step in learning how to assert yourself is understanding what assertiveness is and what it isn’t. Some people cross the line between being assertive and being aggressive or unhealthily confrontational because they confuse being rude or unnecessarily hostile with standing up for themselves. More often than not, that type of behaviour can lead to a toxic work environment rather than a cohesive and understanding one.

By contrast, some people mistake speaking up for themselves as being pushy or disrespectful and resort to keeping quiet and denying their needs and desires which can lead to depression, burnout and strained interpersonal relationships. Being assertive isn’t about talking over or being inconsiderate of other people, nor is it being bossy or impolite — it’s about asking for what you need, communicating honestly about what you want and recognising if someone is taking advantage of you.

Assert, assertiveness, confidence, self-confidence, self-esteemLearning to assert yourself at work is a great way to boost your self-confidence.

2) Get to know yourself and your rights

To be able to back yourself, you need to know a few things about your workplace and who you are as a person. Firstly, you need to recognise your value and self-worth, both as an employee and as an individual. Appreciate your strengths and what you “bring to the table.” Without acknowledging that you are worthy of good things or by falling prey to impostor syndrome, you won’t be able to be assertive.

Next, work on figuring out what you prioritise in life and what your boundaries are so that you can communicate and enforce them to help others understand and respect them. Lastly, it’s important to know your rights in the workplace so that you can realise if you’re being treated unfairly or overworked. Take some time to familiarise yourself with what kinds of action you can take if you are being harassed or someone is exploiting you.

3) Practise some assertiveness techniques

Most people learn by doing. Act out different scenarios to get comfortable with them so that when the time comes, you feel prepared and ready for the conversation that needs to happen. It helps to work on making eye contact. People instinctively perceive eye contact as assertive without being combative. When you avert your gaze when speaking to people, it tends to be perceived as timidity.

Another useful skill to learn is saying “no.” Many people struggle with rejecting requests or declining offers even though they don’t want to accept them. Try out different phrases like “Unfortunately, I’ve got too much on my plate right now” or “I’m going to have to decline.” Remember not to use phrases that people see as an invitation to open negotiations like “I don’t think…”

At ICML, we strive to improve teams’ happiness and productivity through specialised coaching and training programs for groups and individuals. Check out our assertiveness course here or contact us to find out more.

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