9 Ways to Increase Your Assertiveness in the Workplace

Hi. I’m Nicola from The People Mentor, and today, I want to talk about how to increase your assertiveness.  

Assertiveness is an important attribute, especially when you’re a business owner.

Would you say you’re assertive, or is it something you struggle with? 

I’d say that being assertive is a struggle for more people than you’d probably think.  

From a young age, we are taught to be polite and we pick up the written and unwritten rules about how to interact with others.  

There’s nothing wrong with being polite or respectful, but sometimes, especially when you’re a business owner, being too keen to not upset anyone or feeling unable to ask for what you really need or want can cause problems.  

Think about how you interact with your employees.  

How many times have you said, either verbally or in an email, things like: 

“Could you just…” 

“I hope you don’t mind… but” 

“ Could I just trouble you to…” 

“ Sorry to ask, but…” 

This is not assertive communication. You might think it’s polite, but there’s no need to be needlessly apologetic when you’re asking your team to do things for you.  

As long as your requests aren’t completely unreasonable, they are valid.  

It’s not just with employees that you need to increase your assertiveness either. Assertive communication will help you reach your goals and get what you want when it comes to building new relationships with clients, negotiating contracts, or chasing up invoices.  

So how can you increase your assertiveness as a business owner and communicate more clearly and confidently? 

First, let’s look at what assertiveness is and what it’s not.  

Assertiveness is not being aggressive and trying to force your opinions on others. It’s not about arguing and stifling other peoples’ views.  

True assertiveness is being open and honest about your thoughts and how you feel, while also respecting that people around you might have different views and have a right to express them.  

Thinking about true assertiveness then, how can you increase your assertiveness in the workplace, day to day? 

Firstly, make sure your attempts to be assertive aren’t aggressive.  

Assertiveness is about taking control and influencing others, but you can do that without being aggressive. Aggressiveness makes people defensive and is unlikely to get the results you want. Have confidence in yourself and what you’re asking for while being prepared to listen to others and take their views and opinions on board.  

Secondly, don’t keep saying sorry.  

“ Sorry for giving you this to do at short notice…” 

Do you often say things like this? 

While you may be genuinely sorry for giving an employee extra work, it’s far better to frame it more positively. Instead of saying sorry for asking for support when you need it, say something like “ I really appreciate you doing this for me, thank you.” 

This makes you feel validated and it makes your team member feel recognised and appreciated.  

Next, remember that increasing your assertiveness is about knowing what you want to achieve.  

How can you expect to feel confident about asking for something when you don’t know what you want to achieve? 

Whether you’re sending an email or having a conversation, take a moment to think about what you really hope to get from it. This will help you communicate more confidently and clearly.  

Another thing that’s important is listening to others and acknowledging their perspectives 

The most effective leaders aren’t those who are intimidating. They are the ones who know how to win peoples’ support and get them working together as a team. 

Assertive business owners achieve their goals through negotiation, communication, and getting their people behind them by listening to their perspectives and concerns.  

If people don’t feel listened to, it will be a lot harder to get them to support you. There’s always a chance that you won’t get everyone on board, but doing your best to make people feel heard, appreciated, and understood will make you a far more effective manager.  

Next, I think something that many of us forget is that increasing our assertiveness can often mean using fewer words.  

Whenever you want a team member to do something, or you want to express an opinion, do you do so in a long-winded way? Do you spend time justifying yourself or beating around the bush before telling them what your needs are? 


How could you express exactly what you want or need in as concise a way as possible? That is your core message. That is what you need to say. Try it and see what happens.  

So being assertive is about being clear in whatever you are saying 

This includes when you are giving direction to your team or answering a question. Being clear and concise rather than passive or apologetic will help others see you as a strong and confident boss.  

What about then when you need to say no? Increasing your assertiveness is about learning to say no without apologising for it.  

Many people find it tough to say no but it’s important that you set boundaries with your team and stay in control. There is a right and a wrong way to say no, however. 

To say no in a way that people will more readily accept; 

Acknowledge what has been asked and show that you understand what has been asked; 

Give a clear, concise reply without a long-winded justification. Remember that you don’t need to say sorry for saying no, as long as your reason for doing so is reasonable. 

Ask for more time to consider what’s being asked if you need it.  

So being assertive is about communicating clearly in a way that helps you get what you want while maintaining good relationships with others.  

Giving feedback is a situation where this is definitely worth remembering. Giving feedback is something that many business owners don’t relish. Giving feedback without damaging working relationships can feel like a real balancing act.  

A good rule to remember when giving feedback, if you want to do it assertively, is to focus on the positives. Don’t reel off all the problems and what’s going wrong. Focus on people’s strengths and what’s working. This is a far better way to keep people on board and get what you want too.  

And last, but certainly not least, if you want to increase your assertiveness, don’t forget about the importance of your body language and tone of voice.  

The research says that 93% of how we communicate comes across through our body language and the tone of voice we use. So if you want to increase your assertiveness in the workplace, remember to; 

Maintain appropriate eye contact. This doesn’t mean staring at someone or being intimidating, but showing genuine interest and appearing confident.  

Speaking calmly and confidently. Don’t be aggressive but don’t mumble or speak too softly either as this will affect how well your message is received.  

Avoid negative body language, like crossed arms. Keep a relaxed, open posture when you are speaking.  

So if being more assertive as a business owner is your aim, these tips should definitely help.  

But before I end this podcast, I want to address what I feel is often an elephant in the room when it comes to being more assertive.  

It’s that often, men who are assertive are given praise for being bold and strong, and women who are assertive are labelled as bossy.  

Have you ever experienced this? 

What I would say to female business owners is that there’s nothing wrong with being assertive, but sometimes, you’ll find that there’s a greater barrier to overcome. Particularly the fact that many of the traits we associate with management are considered to be typically ‘male.’  

Just don’t forget that as long as you are respectful and positive, and you listen to your people, you have every right to ask for what you want and to say what you believe in.  

So being assertive is an important attribute for us all, especially business owners.  

If being assertive is a struggle for you, why not start small? 

Start making small changes to the way you speak to people or what you say in emails.  

Apologise less. Say, thank you more. Use fewer words. And listen!  

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