Steps to being more assertive in the workplace

Any people pleaser can tell you, lacking assertiveness is a path to burnout and compassion fatigue. In your personal and professional life, this can be a hard – and often awkward – obstacle to overcome.  

For your success and your sanity, taking steps to become more assertive is necessary. In this Pulse, we look at what those might be.  

What barriers do people face in acting assertively? 

A lot of people-pleasing behavior stems from a fear of confrontation or disapproval. Especially in the workplace, people-pleasing can be seen as the best way to avoid reprimand, secure your job, and make others see you as valuable.  

Of course, sometimes, we all have to suck it up and do what a supervisor, client, or customer wants, without really questioning it. However, in the long run, strictly people-pleasing isn’t a good strategy. Especially when we inevitably encounter colleagues who act the opposite way and won’t hesitate to take advantage.  

Assertiveness isn’t the opposite of being helpful or accommodating. It’s about finding a healthy medium between being too passive and too aggressive and expressing your needs and opinions while also respecting the rights and feelings of others. 

So what can you do to work on being more assertive? 

Call yourself out.  

Understanding the root of your lack of assertiveness – whether it be a fear of losing your job or discomfort with confrontation – and challenging it, is the foundational step in strengthening that muscle. This will help you build the self-awareness to combat any people-pleasing tendencies.  

This isn’t just self-critique, either. You should also be able to call out your strengths and the value you bring to the workplace. Assertiveness is also built through confidence, and recognizing your worth in the workplace is tantamount to developing it.  

Start small.  

When working on being more assertive, you don’t have to jump right in to the biggest, scariest situation. Begin by asserting yourself in less intimidating situations and gradually work your way up. 

Communicate clearly and set boundaries.  

You do not have to say yes to everything that’s requested of you. Be clear about what you can and cannot help with and say ‘no’ when necessary. 

Sometimes it’s easy to assume we’ve been clear about not wanting to do something or being too busy. Reflect on the language you use when communicating, as well as your tone and body language. Assertive communication looks like: 

  • Using ‘I’ statements. 
  • Being direct, rather than avoiding or building up to the point. 
  • Staying calm.  
  • Being specific with details, especially when it comes to your capacity/availability.  
  • Active listening.  

Don’t fear all conflict.  

Sometimes, constructive conflict is beneficial. Disagreements, differences in opinion, and, occasionally, even truly uncomfortable conversations are opportunities for growth, improvements, and strengthened connections. 

In conclusion… 

While it may seem like people-pleasing on the job is the safest course of action in the short-run, in the long-run, it’s likely to burn you out. Practicing assertiveness and building it like any other muscle is important for your wellbeing and success.