How to Improve Your Assertive Communication Skills

business meeting

Even for the most experienced professionals, being assertive in the workplace can be challenging. This guide offers practical tips to develop your assertive communication skills, so you can get more from your workplace interactions.

In any given workplace, different personalities and approaches to work can mean that it sometimes feels like people are walking on eggshells around each other, afraid to upset the status quo and make their feelings known. Conversely, there might be members of staff who veer too far the other way, alienating and intimidating others with their over-bearing methods of communication.

Assertiveness is angled somewhere between passivity and aggression, an approach best adopted to avoid intimidation of the latter and allows employees to convey how they feel and what they want in a respectful, non-threatening manner. Done well, it’s a hugely beneficial trait that you can learn and develop over time, helping you to communicate more effectively and reduce the number of stressful situations you deal with, particularly in a work environment.

If this is something you’ve struggled with, here are some steps you can take to be more assertive in your workplace communication.

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What does “assertive” mean?

The dictionary defines assertive to mean “having or showing a confident and forceful personality.” In the context of the workplace, it means to show confidence when speaking within a professional capacity, while still remaining respectful and aiming to achieve a goal.

For example, asking your line manager what would be required for a promotion is a conversation that requires an assertive tone so that your manager is more likely to take heed of your request.

What are assertive communication skills?

There are a few qualities that define assertive communication skills, these include:

Being clear and direct

Beating around the bush isn’t very confident or assertive. Being clear and direct shows that you truly believe what you’re saying, making it easier for you to convey that belief across to a third party.

Being assertive at work

Being assertive at work has many benefits, as long as you learn to pick your battles. Someone who is overly assertive can come across as abrasive and this can lead to making more enemies than friends.

When you are assertive at the right times, it can help your managers and peers to take you more seriously. As well as this, it can help to boost your confidence in the workplace and demonstrates a maturity that cannot be replicated by being a people-pleaser.

Being assertive may also lead to colleagues seeking you out as a prominent voice within the office, further demonstrating your social seniority within the office.

How to improve your assertive communication skills

Knowing what being assertive looks like is only half the battle. Let’s explore what practical steps you can take to become a more assertive person in the workplace.

Don’t be afraid to say no

Something that’s important to know about being assertive: you need to let go of the need to please everyone. As much as we’d all like to be able to do this, it just isn’t possible. Likewise, you might be used to doing things according to others’ expectations. Assertiveness isn’t about concessions and compromises; if we continue doing these two things, it will only leave us dissatisfied and place us in weak positions when we want something for ourselves.

business meeting

Assertive communication means being okay with saying exactly what you want, but doing it in such a way that it won’t hurt the other person’s feelings. Key to this is saying “no” to requests. It’s important to know your own workplace limits as it helps you to manage your tasks and identify areas of the job where too much is being asked of you. Safeguard your time and workload by saying no when it’s necessary.

Speak confidently

Speaking confidently is an important factor of being assertive. Using action words such as “will”, “want”, “choose”, “believe”, “feel” will help you to put across that you are a man or woman of action, showing firm belief in your ideas.

Briefly planning out what you want to say can help you to avoid using lots of filler words such as “erm”, something that can demonstrate nervousness.

 Be careful with your tone

Remember, there’s a difference between aggression and assertiveness. Self-control is essential here; be relaxed, patient and keep your volume levels in check if you start to raise your voice. Assertiveness means not showing hesitation or harshness in your voice, in a way that allows for your wants and needs to be met.

A lot of the difference between being assertive and aggressiveness is tone. When talking in an assertive manner, you should be aware of the tone that you’re using because it can be easy to come across as aggressive. The volume and pitch of your voice as well as your choice of words will determine how the listener perceives your speech.

If you wait for someone else to recognise what you need, you might be waiting a while. Identify the things that you want now, and clearly and confidently tell your manager or colleague exactly what you need from them to achieve your needs.

Your requests should avoid sacrificing the needs of others. Remember, you want them to help you; aggressively asking for help will probably put them off.

colleagues talking 

Learn the importance of discussion

If you’re the kind of person who thinks it’s easier to not pursue something because you didn’t get the answer you want, then we’ve news for you: you could probably do with being more assertive.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time around, don’t give up. Calmly continue the discussion until the issue is resolved. Ask deeper questions, listen more carefully and creatively explore the options. Assertiveness is as much about getting what you want as it is about valuing yourself and having the self-confidence to succeed.

Be mindful of your body language

Your eye contact, posture, listening cues and reactions all play a part in assertiveness. If your body language is too aggressive, those around you go into defence mode, while overly passive nonverbal communication will make them feel ignored.

Maintaining eye contact ensures you stay focused and lets the other person know that you’re invested in and care about what they’re saying. Combined with the appropriate gestures, a well-modulated voice and good timing, the impact of your messaging tends to be amplified as a result.

female worker

Use the language of assertiveness

We’ve touched on tone of voice and body language, but what about how you frame your words? There are a number of simple communication techniques that you can use to become more assertive, including the following:

Use of “I” statements 

Say “I want”, “I need” or “I feel” to convey assertions and get your point across firmly. 


Try to recognise and understand how the other person views the situation. After considering their point of view, express what you need from them.

Change up your verbs

Use verbs that are more definite in your communication. This will help you send a clearer message without sugar-coating the core of what needs to be said. Ambiguity and confusion can stand in the way of getting what you need, so make sure you’re fully understood.

Instead of “could” or “should”, use verbs like “will” and “want”. Simple changes like this will instantly make your tone more direct and assertive, helping you get the outcome you want.

Script what you want to say

If you’re struggling to get your feelings across clearly and confidently, then it might be worth using the scripting technique. This allows you to prepare what you want to say in advance, so you don’t fumble over your words.

man working

1. The event: Tell the other person exactly how you see the situation or problem.

2. Your feelings: Describe how you feel about the situation and express your feelings clearly.

3. Your needs: Tell the other person what you need from them, and don’t assume they know what you want.

4. The consequences: Lay out the positive impact that your request will have for the other person or the company if your needs are met.

Pick your battles

Ultimately, your assertiveness shouldn’t boil over into outright aggression. This is especially important when conflicts in the workplace arise. If this does happen, make a list of conflict points focusing on the most salient ones that could potentially impact your performance or the team goal in a positive way.

If the issue is a specific point, bring it to the rest of your team and ask for their input on a solution. If the issue is with a colleague, ask for an informal meeting, bring along a list of issues you both face and discuss what’s at hand. Be sure to avoid getting personal and don’t say yes just to please someone.

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