Understanding the psychology behind assertiveness will help you express yourself more effectively.

Speak your truth: The art of assertiveness in the modern workplace


In today’s fast-paced work environment, being assertive is a necessity. Especially for leaders, the ability to express oneself clearly and confidently can make the difference between a stagnant career and one that soars. But what does it mean to be assertive, and how can you master this crucial skill? Let’s dive in.

The psychology behind assertiveness

The psychology behind assertiveness is often clouded by misconceptions, leading people to associate it with being pushy or aggressive. In reality, assertiveness is about standing up for yourself and your ideas, all while maintaining respect for others. The benefits are numerous and can be broken down into the following:

  • Being assertive allows you to weigh in on matters that affect you, leading to more informed choices.
  • When you express yourself clearly and are heard, it naturally boosts your confidence.
  • Assertiveness fosters open communication, which is key to any successful relationship.

It’s not about bulldozing your way through conversations; it’s about creating an environment where your voice is heard and valued. By understanding that assertiveness is underpinned by emotional intelligence — comprising self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy — you’ll see that it’s a vital social skill.

Barriers to assertiveness and how to overcome them

Many of us face barriers to being assertive, whether it’s fear of conflict, a lack of confidence or cultural conditioning that encourages us to be passive. The first step in overcoming these barriers is recognising them. Once you’ve identified what’s holding you back, you can work on strategies to overcome the obstacles in your way.

These can range from practising active listening to engaging in role-playing exercises. Additionally, seeking feedback from trusted colleagues can provide valuable insights into your communication style, helping you fine-tune your approach to enhancing your self-expression.

People around the table in a meeting.Learn assertiveness skills to elevate your communication at the workplace.

Techniques for assertive communication

Being assertive starts with clear communication. Use “I” statements to express your thoughts and feelings. For example, instead of saying, “You make me feel overlooked,” say, “I feel overlooked when my ideas are not considered.” This shifts the focus from blaming others to taking responsibility for your own emotions and reactions.

Another technique is the “broken record” method. If someone is not acknowledging your point, calmly and consistently repeat your statement until it’s recognised. This shows that you are committed to your stance without being confrontational.

Now, let’s look at some real-world scenarios where assertiveness makes a difference:

Imagine you’re in a team meeting, and a colleague continually interrupts you. Instead of shrinking back, you can politely but firmly say, “I’d like to finish my point before we move on.” In one-on-ones, assertiveness can help you negotiate better work conditions or even a raise. During conflict resolution, being assertive means standing your ground while also seeking a compromise.

Exercises to practice assertiveness

To truly master the art of assertiveness, practice is key. Here are some exercises designed to help you hone your skills:

  • Role-playing: Partner with a colleague or friend to practice different scenarios. One person can act as the boss or coworker while the other practices assertiveness techniques.
  • Mirror exercise: Stand in front of a mirror and practice your “I” statements. Pay attention to your body language and tone.
  • Journaling: Keep a record of situations where you could have been more assertive. Reflect on what you could do differently next time.

These exercises offer a hands-on approach to improving your assertiveness, making it easier to apply these skills in real-world situations.

Improve your professional communication skills

In a nutshell, assertiveness is a skill that can be learned and honed. It’s not just about speaking up; it’s about doing so in a way that is respectful to both yourself and others. So go ahead, speak your truth and watch as doors start to open in your professional life.

For those looking to dive deeper into this topic, ICML offers an Assertiveness Skills course that covers everything from basic techniques to advanced strategies for becoming more assertive in the workplace.

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