How is it that some people seem to get exactly what they want at work, while others struggle to get anywhere at all? We all know the sort of people – they are often the recipients of promotions ahead of their peers; they negotiate their ideal salary while others jump at the first offer; and management often implement their ideas when they’re presented at meetings or in proposals.

These people don’t necessarily have anything special, and certainly don’t have anything that you don’t have within you. More often than not, it’s assertiveness that makes all the difference, and those who wield it wisely can expect to really reap the rewards. But, like most tools in the communicators’ toolbox, overuse of assertiveness in the workplace can have the opposite effect and actually make it more difficult for you to be heard. People who are too assertive are often seen as aggressive instead, and people become defensive rather convinced.

This isn’t just hear-say, either. A 2007 study showed that, in a work setting, low assertiveness can lead to low achievement, while high assertiveness can harm social relationships (which, of course, leads to an inevitable decline in one’s ability to make the connections that are so vital to effective communication) (Ames & Flynn, 2007). When you hit that assertiveness sweet-spot, however, studies show that you see a real boost in terms of your “psychological empowerment”, which is defined in terms of “sense of meaning, competence, self-determination and impact” (Ibrahim, 2011).


If you’re looking to be more assertive at work without going over the top and straying into the realm of aggression, then I have some good news: we can help! The Serlin Method for Effective Communication contains within it many tools designed to help you communicate more clearly and more assertively. Because our method is centred on communicating from a place of authenticity and positivity, our tools will help guide you away from reaction-based communication and toward positive, resolution-focussed interactions.

It’s important to bear in mind that, while being assertive will generally lead to better outcomes for you at work, having an overly assertive approach is likely to exacerbate the situation for you. Think in terms of being “adaptively assertive” rather than “aggressively assertive” and finding the right situations in which to be assertive. Assertiveness should be used to put your point of view across, but never to try to quash the views, or impinge on the rights of someone else.

For this blog, we’ve put together 5 tips that will help you to be more assertive at work. We’d also like to invite you to download our exclusive FREE eBook – How to Speak Clearly at Work for even more tools that will help you ace your communication at work.

1. Be assertive because you need to be, not just because you can

This is a little bit like the adage “pick your battles”. If you are ‘assertive’ over every issue, no matter how small or unimportant, people will take you less seriously than if you stand your ground on issues you know are important but are flexible on others.

2. When being assertive, focus on yourself and not your colleague

Rather than being accusatory (which can elicit a defensive response), phrase yourself differently when you communicate with your team. Say “I work better when…”, rather than “You need to stop…”


3. Clearly say what you need, and don’t provide scattergun excuses or apologies

If you need to take time off, for example, due to illness, simply state your need. Don’t get flustered and start giving multiple reasons or excuses. Say “I need to take the time off because I am unwell”, rather than “I’ve been really busy with family issues, and I’ve had headaches, and this project has been getting me down, and I’m really sorry but I just don’t think I can make it in today”.

4. Stick to your guns

Being assertive isn’t only about asking for what you want, but about making sure you get it, too. If you’ve asked someone for something and it’s been agreed, don’t then let them renege on what they’ve said. Be polite, but firm, and remind them what had previously been agreed.

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5. Stop apologising

The word ‘sorry’ is sorely overused, and it sends the message that you are low-value, impinging on someone’s time with no right to be there. Instead of saying “Sorry, Mary, but have you considered…”, for example, in a meeting, try phrasing it differently: “Excuse me, Mary, have you considered…” is a much better example of assertive communication, and will get you listened to more readily.

There you have it – 5 tips on how to be more assertive at work that you can use right away in your workplace communication and start being a more confident, empowered person. 

If you are looking to start building communication skills even further, download the eBook below and book a FREE 15-minute Discovery Call with our Client Success Manager. 

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