As more of us return to the workplace, we may find team dynamics have shifted. How we engage with others may also need a refresh – especially when it comes to communicating assertively. Here’s how to return to work with confidence and clarity.

Assertiveness often gets a bad rap, mistakenly misconstrued as being pushy. Yet, true assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. More importantly, assertiveness can be taught – it’s not innate.

Fortunately for most of us, it’s a learned ability that can be improved over time. As an interpersonal skill, assertiveness enables us to advocate for our needs in a direct, honest and appropriate way.

It helps us to consider social relationships and others’ wishes and is underpinned by self-awareness. In the workplace, with a myriad of personalities and pressures, drawing on assertiveness can be essential.

Yet it’s something that takes practice and self-kindness as we test a new skill.

Firstly, let’s consider what assertiveness won’t do. Being assertive won’t guarantee you fair treatment by others nor gift you your desired outcomes. It won’t ensure others behave assertively, not aggressively. And it certainly won’t rid you of challenges.

That said, any difficulties with assertiveness will almost certainly impair your ability to have your needs met and supported by others. So, there’s no better reason to invest in developing this communication style.

Assertiveness can be tricky to master because it involves other people and asks us to considers ourselves and others. We might get anxious trying to be assertive, even if we know how. And we might have self-defeating beliefs or barriers that get in the way.

But if we acknowledge these blocks and replace some of our negative beliefs around assertiveness – what we think will happen if we change our behaviour in the workplace – with pro-assertive beliefs, we can start to approach this more gently.

Top Five Pro-Assertive Beliefs for the Workplace

  1. I am human and will make mistakes
  2. I can’t satisfy everyone
  3. Negative outcomes are unfortunate but not unbearable
  4. My actions help me to bring my desires to life
  5. I am worthy and have the same human rights as others

When being assertive in the workplace it can help to: focus on the problem, not the person; be direct; deal in specifics, not generalisations; and use clear “I” statements to express your wishes.

There are several types of assertiveness patterns that can be trialled in response to different workplace scenarios. These may take some practice, naturally, but using empathy can be one of the most effective ways to be assertive.

Step One – Empathise or validate the other person by acknowledging their discomfort and any inconvenience imposed by asking them for something or saying no to a request.

Step Two – Assert yourself with a short, truthful, non-defensive statement of what you want and a brief explanation of why it’s needed.

Step Three – Reinforce the relationship using praise or a positive comment, a short apology if needed or an attempt to find a compromise or explore a solution.

Step Four – When there’s a power differential, spend more time on Steps One and Two.


Here’s a real-life example of how this might play out in a workplace. This scenario occurred when a client was asked to stay back to help on a project when they already had plans for the evening.

“I know you’re really busy and must be under lots of stress at the moment. I’m sure you could really use some help on this project.” (Empathise/validate)

“But I’m afraid I can’t really offer you any help on this tonight.” (Assert)

“I really hope you find somebody for tonight. I should be able to offer you some help next week if things are still tough.” (Reinforce)

This is just one of many ways assertiveness can be valuable in the workplace. When we speak clearly to our colleagues and they understand our motives, and vice versa, it becomes easier for everyone to assert what they need.


Caraniche at Work is now also offering training programs online. Download our latest training brochure here.

Category: Culture, Employees

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