You know you need to be more assertive at work but you’re worried you’re going to turn into that d!ck that works in Ops* and come across as aggressive, awkward and unhelpful.

This probably goes against every fibre of your being as you were brought up to be polite, well mannered and helpful at all times.

The thing is, I think assertiveness often gets confused with aggression and in a society where (yep, I am going to say it) women have been actively encouraged to be more passive their whole lives, this can really hold us back.

Women who are assertive can often be branded as “difficult” or “opinionated” in a way that men would not be.

Let me tell you, you’re never going to turn into that d*ck in Ops if you start standing up for yourself more. Expressing yourself in an assertive manner is not the same as being aggressive and it’s a skill that can be learnt.

What is assertiveness?

It’s about being able to express yourself with confidence and get your point across without using manipulation or passive aggressive tendencies (which can often be our default at home when we are sick to the back teeth of asking our families to pick up the stuff on the stairs on their way up “it’s fine, I will be everyone’s slave around here!”)

Our communication style can affect our relationships both in and outside of work, and is formed at a very early age based on how we see others around us act and also how our parents or caregivers responded to us. We have a natural tendency to be either passive (being compliant – think wanting to please your parents) or aggressive (crying, kicking and screaming to get your voice heard) but assertiveness is a style we can (and need to) learn to help us form strong relationships and get stuff done at work.

Assertiveness is NOT all about what you say

Of course, choosing the words you use is important when you’re wanting to get your point across assertively but there are lots of other factors in play that you need to consider:

  1. Dealing with your inner chatter – when we’re going into a situation where there may be a need to be more assertive than you usually are (the classic ones I hear from clients are senior team meetings where you know that guy from Ops* is going to give you a hard time) your mind can start creating the worst case scenario before you even get in the room. This can create a fight (aggressive), flight or freeze (passive) response in your brain, so anything you can do to calm that chatter (e.g. deep breathing, a walk outside, a 5 min break) before you go into the meeting can really help get you into the right state of mind to get your point across well.
  2. Get better at listening – everyone wants to feel heard (including you) so when you are in a situation where you assertively need to get your point across, don’t spend the whole time preparing in your head (see above inner chatter) but truly listen and respect the other persons point of view before responding. Take care not to interrupt (unless the other person is being rude or unreasonable) and make it clear you’re listening (think nodding the head of paraphrasing back)
  3. Think about your body language – a lot of how we communicate is delivered not through our words,  but through our body language. Think about how you make eye contact (without staring the other person out!) and the overall stance you hold your body with – is it exuding confidence (which will instantly make you feel more assertive)?
  4. Stop apologising – assertive people do apologise, but once, and only when appropriate. Think about all the times you’ve said sorry when you’ve not really meant it “sorry, I can’t make that meeting time” can be replaced with “No, I have another call. I need to rearrange” is much more direct. Think about how often you say sorry and start cutting that language out!
  5. Use “I” statements – Have confidence to use the words “I think…” or “I need…” because when you say things like “do you think we can….?”  you’re much more likely to get a “no” response than if you state “I need you to do X”. Using “I” statements gives much less room for debate.

Practice being more assertive, the more you do it the more it’ll become second nature

These steps are going to take you in the right direction to becoming more assertive at work (and at home) which is going to help you to feel more heard, valued more and actually help you to deliver what you need to.

If you would like more help with how to be more assertive at work, so you can be more influential, make a bigger impact and get the recognition you deserve, then you can join my course waiting list: Invisible to Valued

*Other departments are available – I wouldn’t like to offend everyone in Ops, I am far too passive for that!