Assertiveness at Work: 5 Key Elements

Assertiveness at Work: 5 Key Elements

Last update: 17 October, 2018

Assertiveness at work is often confused with other concepts, such as aggressiveness or hostility. However, if it’s based on respect, it falls far from that comparison. In other words, to be assertive is to know and defend the rights we have as individuals and as citizens, without attacking others. It’s also the opposite of passivity.

In the work environment, assertiveness has important benefits for the employee and employer alike. This is why it’s important to develop assertiveness and put it to practice. How can that be done?

Defend your work

On certain occasions, bosses take credit for the work their employees do. This is very frustrating for the workers because they don’t receive the due credit for their efforts. For example, imagine that you’ve been working on an important report for several weeks, but when it’s time to present it to the clients, your boss doesn’t invite you to the meeting or even mention you in the presentation.


Assertiveness at work pushes us to break our silence and to communicate our discontent with our bosses. Following the example from above, assertiveness would help us talk to our boss and request that our work receives its due value. It’s a not a matter of getting angry or speaking in a defiant tone, but informing the resulting discouragement of not getting credit for our work.

Give your opinion concisely and effectively

There’s a department meeting. It’s a key meeting: important decisions need to be made, ones that will affect you directly. Therefore, the superiors ask everyone for their opinion on the matters at hand. The majority of people take either an aggressive or passive attitude toward the topics.

Let’s assume that the debate is the following: do you think that the company should increase the budget for your department? What proposal do you have regarding that?

  • Aggressiveness: “Of course they should. We don’t even have a coffee machine.”
  • Passivity: “Either way is fine. It doesn’t affect me”.
  • Assertiveness: “We have noticed a few negative changes from last year regarding the reduction of the assigned budget. It would be convenient to raise the budget to previous levels in order to better perform tasks in the department.”

The first and second response create tension. The third response makes it clear that assertiveness at work is a social skill that helps people communicate in a more efficient way with their coworkers and superiors. With it, we can express our needs and understand the possible sensitivities that others may have. It enables intermediate solutions in case that it’s not possible to meet our requests exactly as we’d like.

Give yourself value

If we want to be able to give opinions in assertive ways, we must be careful not to make rookie mistakes. One of these is undervaluing messages with sentences like:

  • “I don’t know if it’ll work.”
  • “It’s just an idea.”
  • “It’s too soon anyway.”
  • “It could be a dumb idea.”

Try to avoid filler words: they’re not your friends. On the contrary, they give the idea that you’re not sure of what you’re saying and that you’re insecure. If you give signals that you don’t fully support your suggestion and ideas, then they’ll be a lot more difficult to adopt.

Use subjective communication

Subjective communication consists of expressing our thoughts and feelings in the first person. It allows us to speak without blaming, judging, or criticizing others.

Here’s an example. Given the results the company is showing due to your effort and dedication, you think you should get a salary raise. There are two ways of communicating this to your boss: “I would like to speak about my salary” or “We must speak about my salary”.

The first sounds much less aggressive and impersonal. Simple details give your sentences respect, ease, and importance. That is what assertiveness at work put into practice looks like.

Assertiveness at work helps in negotiations.

Clarity and brevity

There are two aspects you need to clarify in order to use your assertiveness at work. One is the goals you’d like to achieve. The other is the main idea of your message.

If you know your goal, you can approach it in a gradual way. If you don’t, putting assertiveness into practice will be difficult and there’ll be certain cases when you get the opposite effect. In fact, a common and frequent mistake people make when trying to be more assertive is saying “no” to all proposals. Deny proposals when they come into conflict with your values or rights, don’t do it to try to seem more assertive.

Likewise, avoid beating around the bush. If you can communicate your message in one minute instead of 5, do it in one. If you ramble too much, people in the meeting will lose interest.

Studied through the big 5 personality traits of Costa and McRae, assertiveness is a trait in extraverted people. No one is assertive naturally. As we have stated, it’s more of a social skill that we can develop. It requires effort and knowledge to really understand the concept.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.