Four Tips for Being Assertive, Not Aggressive

In: BlogDate: Feb 08, 2018By: Billy Burgess

Assertiveness is about standing up for yourself and getting your voice heard, without being aggressive. In this blog, Billy Burgess explains four key components for being assertive that you can put into place right away, both at work and in your personal life.

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It’s not unusual to feel ineffectual regarding our individual contributions to the chaotic modern world. Concerns about the ultimate triviality of our actions are particularly rife in times of heightened social tension (such as right now) where widespread division and perceptible inequality and maltreatment abound.

Likewise, it’s almost standard to feel a lack of control over how others perceive us. We all have idealised identities that we attempt to actualise with varying degrees of success, and sometimes we can’t help but feel we’re failing to even mildly represent the feelings and thoughts within.

In order to make our voices heard, and more importantly be taken seriously, it’s essential to become assertive. But assertiveness doesn’t just mean aggressively speaking our minds.

Here are four key components for being assertive that’ll help us feel a greater sense of self-empowerment without become aggressive chest-beaters.

Stand up for yourself

In its simplest manifestation, assertiveness means standing up for yourself and not being trampled on by the people around you. This involves being clear about the sort of behaviour that is and isn’t OK and making sure others don’t overstep the mark.

At the same time, this process can’t be purely self-centred. Standing up for yourself should never come at the compromise of someone else’s rights or well being. Screaming at your local barista for asking if you’d like any cakes with your coffee probably isn’t necessary (how are they to know that you’re trying desperately to kick the sugar addiction?)

If, however, the question is actually a hostile taunt, then certainly make it known that you don’t appreciate the attitude.

The importance of saying no

The occasions on which you exercise your right to say no will bear significantly on others’ understanding of your personality.

It sounds counter intuitive, but saying no can be a positive assertion of who you are and what you stand for. Constantly saying yes might lead you to be perceived as a tolerably compliant yet blurry figure. (It’s no good accepting invites to every single party, school fete, yoga class and book group if no-one has a clue what to talk to you about.)

Exercise diplomacy

We often shy away from saying no – at work, at home and in social scenarios – out of fear of not looking like a team player or causing upset. But there is more than one way to say no, although some diplomacy is required.

When someone comes at you with an unappealing request or invite, try to reply encouragingly rather than launching into a negative refusal. Perhaps talk around the issue or point out some good aspects of what the request relates to.

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

You can’t guarantee this won’t let the other person down, but you needn’t put yourself in uncomfortable situations purely for the sake of preserving someone else’s contentment.

Effective listening

Implicit in this tactful way of saying no is the importance of effective listening. Effective listening skills are of comparable importance to building the confidence to speak up. This is because good listening provides an avenue for taking back some control – especially if you’re commonly fielding unappealing requests, being bombarded with one-sided opinions, or simply struggling to find anything to talk to someone about.

In the case of receiving unattractive requests, try calmly asking questions rather than adopting avoidance tactics or reacting with irrational fury. Listening to someone’s elaborated responses will reveal key points on which to base your polite refusal. This gives you more control of the discussion and means you can voice your point of view with more clarity.

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5 out of 5 stars

Be as you are & curious: What a great encouragement! •I did not imagine how encouraging & assuring to have colleagues with the similar problems to tackle and to share personal fears/concerns with them. Role plays/situation plays helped me to face unpredictable real situations, too. There is a significant difference between the individual CBT counselling for assertiveness and a group workshop like this. •Interestingly enough, quite a few colleagues said that they are more comfortable/less nervous to join trainings & meetings via Zoom partly because they have a plenty of personal space, can switch off the video mode if necessary, and use the chat function if it is more discreet to draw an attention of the trainer. •The trainer has good skills of coaching (let us think well first before suggesting potential solutions etc), his willingness to show his own weakness & nervousness to build trust with us quickly, without damaging his confident & capable manner. •One of my personal achievements in this course is to learn how to handle the cost of assertiveness (eg. People who benefited from other’s passiveness tend to sabotage his/her new assertiveness & try to bring them back to their old passiveness in order to manipulate.) [I personally experienced this cost after politely declining unreasonable tasks I was asked by external colleagues (Excluding from relevant communications, ignore greetings, etc.) ] The trainer pointed out that 1) It is the toughest part to overcome as we have to hold our new assertiveness towards manipulators. 2) One-to-one sincere dialogue is the only break-through 3) However, we should note that we cannot change other people’s attitude/reaction & we should not be surprised if others react unreasonably/in rage. 4) As an advanced stage, we need to learn how to handle difficult conversations/keep calm in these situations. •Some elements of difficulties in facing the cost of assertiveness are not based on personal traits buts on employment factors, such as types of contract, grade differences etc. By being assertive to particular members of the staff, some fear that they might lose the extension of their contract, opportunities of promotion, etc. These factors are difficult to solve even by the Union & our HR grievance procedures. •Trainer emphasised the importance of having a model of assertiveness in your mind & the positive aspects of being an introvert. Centre for Clinical Intervention Assertiveness Work Book Other self help

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Happy's one-day Assertiveness course looks at the challenges of being assertive with colleagues online and communicating with those around you. We'll help you to analyse your current behaviour patterns and situations where you are experiencing difficulty.

This next Assertiveness workshop is on September 9th at 10:00-16:30. The learning will be a combination of two 2-hour interactive workshops delivered through Zoom and self-guided assignments. Find out more

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Billy Burgess

Billy has been writing blogs for Happy since 2017, covering mindfulness, stress management, confidence building and emotional intelligence as well as offering handy tips for Office 365 users. As an arts, culture and lifestyle writer, his work is regularly published in Music Feeds, VICE,, Beat magazine and Mixdown.

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