How to be more assertive with difficult colleagues

Stop filling your emails with smiley faces and exclamation points – now is the time to become more assertive and make sure that your voice is being heard

Always agreeing with the majority in meetings may be an easy way to get through the day-to-day, but chances are, your opinions are not being heard. Standing up for yourself and being more assertive definitely isn’t an easy task, but there are a number of ways in which you can grow your confidence and become more assertive.

Stop being passive

If you’re too passive, you give others permission to disregard your opinion — and that’s not something that you should ever be looking to surrender, especially in the workplace. Passive styles can otherwise be described as easygoing, shy, or the desire to avoid conflict, but professional conflict does not need to be seen as a negative. Next time someone asks for your opinion or you give a request, make sure it’s direct, firm and assertive. 

Let go of guilt

We’ve all been there; someone has asked us to complete a task, but we’re already stretched to maximum capacity. Saying no can often lead to guilt, but keep in mind that you are not rejecting the person. Another way to think of it is to flip it on its head – by recognising when you’re overloaded, you’re prioritising your work, your overall wellbeing, and you’re not promising something that you will not be able to deliver. 

Understand the power of “I”

Adjusting your language is a sure-fire way to improve your assertiveness. Make using “I” statements a habit, for example, “I will”, “I have” or “I think”, as these will allow you to articulate your point, without seeming aggressive. Also limit the use of exclamation points and smiley faces, as assertive speech is direct, honest, accepting, and responsible.

Set boundaries

Striking the right level of assertiveness can be a tricky skill to master, so setting clear boundaries is a way to ensure that colleagues don’t walk over you, but you don’t become hostile and aggressive, either. Boundaries will help you understand how you would like to be treated, acting as a marker to work towards as you practice your skills. 

Start small and keep going

The more you practice assertive behaviour, the more confident you’ll feel. Each day, try to improve your skills in small ways. By starting with emails and friendly conversations, you’ll slowly but surely gain the confidence to speak up for yourself in more daunting situations. Like everything in life, practice makes perfect. 



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