Finding the Voice You Did Not Know You Had!

Is Difficulty Being Assertive Getting in Your Way at Work?

Quite often I hear about disappointments in the workplace, such as not getting an expected promotion, not feeling that one's requests are being taken seriously, and not feeling as if one's ideas are being heard. Oftentimes these disappointments are not due to incompetence but rather to a lack of assertiveness and follow through.

The great news is that this is something that can be worked on and improved! Learning to become more assertive may not only improve the quality of your experience at work, but may also result in a feeling of increased confidence in oneself, both in and outside of the work environment. So let's get started with some basics!


Making Change!
Steps Towards
Self-Assurance & Assertiveness

If Possible, Identify the Fear: Oftentimes what can get in the way of being assertive in the workplace is one's fears and misconceptions associated with assertiveness. For example, some people tend to confuse assertiveness with aggression, and fear that if they are "assertive" they will be perceived negatively. In fact, some people who hold this misconception may have tried to be assertive but found themselves yelling and getting frustrated, resulting in a negative response from colleagues, which further reinforces this fear. Other times people may worry that if they are more assertive they will not be liked by their colleagues, which is a valid fear and in particular for women who may be expected to behave in a more passive manner.

The reality is that being assertive and being aggressive are not the same thing. And if you find that you are not liked for being assertive then you may need to rethink the work environment that you are in. Being assertive simply means that you can state your needs, opinions, suggestions, or questions with confidence, and that you can maintain your boundaries when you need to. It means using your voice to say "no" when not saying "no" will be harmful to the quality of your life, and it means not being afraid to fully participate in your environment. One can be assertive without being aggressive at all. And with respects to being liked, frequently, assertive people are respected for their confidence and self-assurance. They do not waste time by beating around the bush and they demonstrate that they are fully contributing to the team. If a person is in an environment where assertiveness is not valued then that person needs to think about whether or not that is acceptable to them.

These fears/misconceptions are just examples of the fears that could be holding a person back from being more assertive. The most important thing is to figure out what your particularl fears and misconceptions are so that you may work on managing them, and work towards pushing past them.

Identify Your Needs: The realization for the wish solely to be more assertive is not all that helpful. Where do you start? It is important to think about what is occurring in your work life that has led you to this desire for more assertiveness in your life. Perhaps you notice that your requests for certain things at work have been neglected because you have not adequately communicated how important they are. Maybe you wanted a promotion and felt qualified for it but you did not go the extra mile to show your superiors how much you wanted it. Your need may be to feel like you participate more during meetings or group discussions. Whatever it may be, it is important to identify the need or needs so that you can find a place to start with respects to setting some goals for yourself.

Start With the Least Frightening Scenario: When attempting to try something challenging, it is usually best to start easy and then build up to more difficult situations. Additionally, just because you have decided that you want to be more assertive, does not mean that you have to be generally more assertive. This is why you have identified your needs. After having rank ordered them with respects to importance, start with one thing at a time from least to most difficult. Your most important needs may not necessarily be the first place that you wish to start if they are the more difficult, but that is ok, you will get there! As you see success with being more assertive in the easier scenarios, you will gain confidence and be more ready for the more challenging moments. Diving right in to the more difficult situations may set you up for feeling disappointed and discouraged. So take your time and build slowly, one need at a time. You will get to them all.

Practice!!: If you're not quite sure what to say or where to start, it can be very helpful to practice beforehand. For example, before going into a meeting imagine what might come up and what points you may want to make. Then write out how you want to deliver your message. Practice reading and repeating what it is that you wish to communicate, varying how you say it until you feel confident about your delivery. It is much easier to speak about something important to you if you have given it much thought and rehearsed it, rather than speaking on the fly. Many professionals practice their pitch and work on tweaking it all of the time. This helps them deliver it with confidence. It is no different with asserting your needs. Additionally, practice saying "no." Sometimes your need may be to set limits in the workplace and say no. Practice asserting yourself by practicing saying "no" or "I cannot." Practice. Practice. Practice! 

Fake It Till You Make It: Speaking of confidence, asserting oneself is usually easier and more successful when one demonstrates a sense of confidence. You may not actually be feeling confident, but nobody else knows that. State your needs without apology. Do not second guess what you are saying or temper it. Do not downplay the importance of your needs to you. With words and body language communicate that you deeply believe in what you are asking for and are unlikely to waver.

Keep It Simple & Concise: Part of communicating that you are serious and firm about what you need is making a simple and clear statement. You want the other person to understand what you are requesting or denying, rather than get caught up in other things that may come up if your statement is too long winded or complicated. Speaking in a concise, simple, and firm manner demonstrates confidence in what you are saying. For example, a statement such as, "I cannot take on more projects unless I am provided an assistant" PERIOD, is much more assertive and likely to be successful than a comment such as, "I would like to take on more but I am not sure it is possible at this time, unless I could maybe get some assistance."  

Provide Positive Reinforcement: No matter how successful the outcome of your attempt to be successful goes, it is important to encourage yourself to try again and keep improving. Reinforce your attempt. Identify all things that you did which were difficult for you but that you did despite the challenge. Feel good about it!

Reflect on What Went Right & Wrong: Do not dwell on what went wrong, but it can be helpful to take stock of the positives and negatives of an attempt to be more assertive. That way you can think about and practice what you would like to do differently next time. You can also think about why some things did not quite go the way you anticipated.

If you find your difficulties with being assertive significantly interfering with your life, it might be best to reach out for some professional help. If you have general questions about therapy, you may find the FAQ page useful.