How to be more assertive in your work and life – six expert tips


Stand your ground (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Ever feel like you struggle to stand your ground and say what you really mean?

Or like you’re getting walked all over?

Or you’re just going with the flow – so much that you feel like you have little control over your own life?

If you’re nodding along, it sounds like you find it difficult to be assertive.

You’re certainly not the only one – lots of us struggle to stay strong and really vouch for ourselves, whether that’s at work or in our home lives.

We struggle to set boundaries, to go against the crowd, and to back ourselves.

The good news is that you can learn to be more assertive, says Paula Leach, who has 25 years’ experience in HR and now runs her own business, Vantage Points Consulting.

Ahead, she shares her top tips for build assertiveness and be a more effective communicator.

Be intentional and figure out what you want

‘You can’t be assertive if you don’t have clarity about what you are standing for,’ Paula tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Take the necessary reflective time to examine what is important to you and why.

‘Exploring and knowing what you stand for is a valuable foundation for decision making.’

Re-frame assertiveness as a service

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that asking for what you want and need is being too demanding, or that you’re being difficult.

So it can help to re-frame it a bit.

‘If you feel or think something and you don’t make this known to others, then this can be disrespectful,’ notes Paula. ‘Worst-case scenario, this can lead to passive-aggressive behaviour which erodes trust and our own self-esteem.

‘We all deserve to build mutual understanding and your points or perspectives may be important to others, even if they disagree.

‘Use the basis of open communication as an opportunity to understand deeper what other people may bring to aim towards consensus or common ground.’

Candid portrait of mid adult black businesswoman smiling in meeting

It might feel uncomfortable at first (Picture: Getty Images)

Deal with anger first

Paula says: ‘Being assertive does not mean being angry.

‘If you are feeling emotional in a situation and this prevents you from making a point or making a decision, step back. Examine what it is that is triggering your anger and come from a place of calm, considered thought and kindness.

‘Your perspectives and decisions may not be the same as other people’s but understand where they are coming from.

‘Assertiveness is calm and compassionate, not emotional, and angry.’

Remember that being assertive doesn’t mean always being right

Stay open to other perspectives – don’t get so stuck in your view that you won’t budge.

‘Being assertive doesn’t mean winning,’ Paula tells us. ‘Being clear and decisive is not the same as feeling that you are right or unmoveable in your position.

‘Being calm and open with your decisions and communications allows others to provide sometimes counter perspectives that can be valuable if you have a growth and flexible mindset.’

Stick with it and see the benefits (Picture: Getty Images)

Ditch people-pleasing

‘Avoid the need to people please,’ Paula says. ‘Sometimes we can avoid stating our point of view or making a decision because we won’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or we feel they might not be open to an alternative.

‘However, pleasing others at the cost of our own integrity or intentions cannot be sustained over time and can lead to resentment, which is not honouring that person and the basis of all relationships, which is reciprocity.’

Get comfortable with discomfort

We’re not going to lie to you: Shifting to being more assertive is going to feel really uncomfortable sometimes. Change is hard, especially when you’re battling a voice in your head that tells you everything’s going to go wrong.

And the truth is, you might experience some resistance or surprise from people who aren’t used to you standing your ground.

But stay strong.

‘Hold their discomfort and yours without resisting it, and you may just find a newfound voice and confidence,’ notes Paula.

Paula Leach has over 25 years’ experience in HR, most notably as Chief People Officer at The Home Office.  She runs her own business, Vantage Points Consulting, and is the author of Vantage Points: How To Create A Culture Where Employees Thrive.  

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