4 Tips for Being Assertive, Not Aggressive

In: BlogDate: Oct 24, 2022By: Claire Lickman

Assertiveness is about communicating confidently and in a positive way. You don't need to be domineering or belligerent to get your voice heard.

In this blog, written by our Digital Marketing Assistant Dolly Osborne, we give you four helpful tips for being assertive, not aggressive in your interactions both in and out of the workplace.

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In the chaotic world that we live in, one that is filled with social tension and increasing polarisation, it’s very easy to feel ineffective or unimportant. We can feel powerless in the face of social injustice, growing inequalities and an age where everyone’s opinion is down in black and white for all to see and disagree with.

Even though we have more ways of contacting people than ever before we feel less in control of how others perceive us. We hold these idealised identities that we attempt to actualise with varying degrees of success, and yet can feel further away than ever from being heard or understood. Surrounded by pristine filtered images of perfection it’s easy to allow impostor syndrome to take hold of you and you can feel frustrated by trying to find a way to be listened to.

In order to make our voices heard we need to learn to be assertive. Assertiveness doesn’t just mean speaking our minds; it’s about confidence and positivity, it’s not shouting the loudest or being aggressive.

Here are four useful tips for being assertive that’ll help you feel a sense of self-empowerment, of making yourself heard, without being aggressive.

Stand up for yourself

Assertiveness means standing up for yourself and not being a doormat to other people. This involves being clear about your boundaries and your expectations and feeling able to speak up if others fall short.

At the same time, assertion isn’t about egocentricity. Standing up for your rights is not transactional; getting your needs met should never come at the cost of someone else’s rights or well-being. That doesn’t mean that your feelings come last, more that everyone feels respected and seen in a conversation. 

The importance of saying no

Understanding that you have the right to refuse is an important tool when becoming more assertive. Don’t feel like your job is to please everyone around you. If a request is outside of your interests, ability or time constraints then it is entirely acceptable to decline.

Your boundaries, your values, and your schedule are all important and you cannot agree to every request that crosses your desk. Often it might be appropriate to explain why you feel the need to decline something, this can be especially helpful to prevent repeated requests or, alternatively, if it is something you would say yes to under other circumstances. On some occasions however your reason for declining might not be something you wish to share; if said respectfully no can be a complete sentence. 

Exercise diplomacy

All of us have different skill sets and different areas of interest, the world would be an incredibly boring place if that was not the case, so you may get invited to participate in things you really dislike. It is okay to say no to these kinds of invites but you need to be doing so respectfully. The person inviting you doesn’t need to hear a negative opinion of something that may well be their passion, you will avoid the potential for an upset by being diplomatic and polite.

When someone comes to you with an unappealing request or invite, try to find a point of interest to praise before launching into a refusal. Perhaps have a think about if there is someone else that might be pleased to attend and so suggest them instead, saying “This sounds like something Zainab would love” is much more polite than saying “I’d hate that.”

Or perhaps instead of a straight-up dismissal, think of an alternative to yes – this could be a compromised course of action or a reminder of something relevant that you’ve already been doing.

If you communicate honestly, politely and respectfully then even a refusal is usually well received.

Effective listening

In order to consistently get your voice heard you need to learn the importance of listening to others. After all, who is going to listen to someone who is known for not listening? 

If you are going to disagree with something or decline a request you need to understand exactly what it is you oppose. Repeating details you were given when you come to decline an invitation, for example, demonstrates that you have listened to the other person and not just declined out of hand.

It’s also really important to practice active listening. Showing a person that you are engaged and really listening to what they are saying is more likely to make them want to listen when it’s your turn to speak. If you appear distracted, or pull faces to show displeasure, as someone is talking they are likely to feel upset and judged and therefore much less likely to give you room to respond.


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Learn more in our Assertiveness Live Online Learning workshop

If you're short on time, take a look at our new 2 hour Assertiveness online workshop. We will look at how to improve your assertiveness skills, allowing your voice to be heard. We will look at the challenges of being assertive with colleagues online and communicating with those around you. Find out more

Happy's one-day Assertiveness workshop looks at the challenges of being assertive with colleagues online and communicating with those around you. Find out more

We also host a female-only Assertiveness one-day workshop, Assertiveness for Women, for learners who feel more comfortable learning in an all-female environment. This next runs 20th June, Find out more

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Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at lecari.co.uk.

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