Assertiveness at work can be a valuable asset; it can help you get your ideas across, and reinforce boundaries with others. It can be difficult to learn, particularly if you're more shy by nature, but experts tell Bustle the benefits of being
more visible and confident about your work can make you into a better boss, coworker and employee. If you want to work on improving your assertiveness at work, it's simpler than it seems — and can be done in less than a week.
Sometimes, people avoid cultivating assertiveness at work in order to appear easygoing, or like more of a "team player." For women in particular,
being assertive in the workplace can feel dangerous — the line between being perceived as "having strong boundaries" and "being rude" can be awfully thin, especially in a culture that expects women to pitch in for office housework. But there are tangible benefits to being assertive at work. A study in 2016 found that assertive women are paid more than their less assertive counterparts, though nobody was paid more than assertive men, while another from 2009 indicates that interpersonal assertiveness is one of the best possible ways to improve your leadership at work.
Experts tell Bustle that there are strategies to adopt to help you become more assertive in the workplace in three days, and help you make an impression and get credit for your ideas. They'll all involve some work, especially if you're naturally inclined to hang back. However, they can make a pretty quick shift in your behavior at work — and hopefully get you the rewards that assertiveness can bring. Here are seven changes to make to be more assertive at work.
Being assertive, experts tell Bustle, isn't just about shouting your own ideas louder than everybody else. It's also about being curious about what you're doing and how other people think about.
Asking questions is a great way to show that you are interested and engaged, which is also seen as assertive because you are asking questions to gain more information to use in future decision making," career coach Jen DeWall tells Bustle. "Curiosity also helps with conflict because you are not assuming you know all of the answers." Ask open-ended questions, query what you don't understand, and make sure it's clear you're noting the answers.
Volunteering can often be associated with doing busywork others aren't inclined to do, but it can also be a way to show off the range of your skill set.
"If your boss or leaders ask for help on something, volunteer to help," says DeWall. "Volunteering is an
easy way to demonstrate assertiveness while minimizing conflict because it is a personal choice; you can choose whether you want to volunteer or not." You can mark yourself out as a go-getter and help others who may not have wanted to take on the same responsibilities.
It's also a good place to do a test run of your assertiveness. "Become a building fire marshal or head up a volunteer event," Erica McCurdy, founder of executive coaching group
McCurdy Solutions, tells Bustle. "These are roles where those not always in leadership are given temporary authority to show leadership what you are made of and test out your assertiveness in a temporary environment."
Sometimes working with others means giving some criticism, and that's an important time to be assertive, experts tell Bustle — but phrasing can really help make it easier. "If you're trying to give constructive feedback in a way where you don't want to create conflict, I recommend you always lead with
how someone is making you feel," Liz Wessel, CEO of WayUp, a company that connects young people with Fortune 500 companies for internships, tells Bustle. "No one can argue with your feelings, since they are yours to have." Using "I" statements and phrases about your own feelings, like "you made me feel XYZ," are more effective than "you clearly feel XYZ about me," because they're all about you.
Starting with praise can also help. "Start off by sharing a statement of validation letting the other person know that you appreciate them and the work they do," McCurdy tells Bustle. "By being someone who does not often create conflict, your conversation is likely to have an impact larger than you may intend, so make your case carefully, concisely, impersonally, and be sure to articulate exactly what you need the other person to do to resolve your issue."
The flipside of constructive criticism is hearing it about yourself, and that's an important part of being assertive in a constructive way, says DeWall. "When offering an opinion, ask others what they think instead of treating your opinion as the end-all-be-all," she tells Bustle. "By
giving others the opportunity to provide feedback, it shows that you are a team player and willing to collaborate with others instead of trying to take all of the credit for having the perfect idea." That approach will lead to more constructive relationships with the people around you, because they'll know you take on their points of view and don't automatically assume you're right.
If you are having a conflict of ideas, DeWall suggests adopting a "win-win" attitude. "Try to negotiate a win-win, where both sides feel their needs are met," she tells Bustle. "This is a sign of strong big-picture thinking, self-confidence, and assertiveness." Rather than wanting to make a slam-dunk win, this helps everybody feel included.
No, it's not your fault if Tom from accounting thinks you were being rude when you asked him to process that invoice by EOD. Being mindful of tone where you can, though, may help people understand your assertiveness for what it is (even though it's not fair that invisible labor falls on you).
"There is a noticeable difference between aggressive and condescending tones in comparison to natural assertive tones," DeWall tells Bustle. Other people may not notice the difference — and you may find yourself pigeon-holed as aggressive, in a negative way, when you're just trying to prove a point or make your idea heard. To combat this, it might be a good idea to rehearse the tone of your criticisms with other people outside work before you say them, to make sure you're giving off the right vibe.
When you walk into a workplace, prepare yourself to be assertive before you even say a thing. "Assertiveness is not all about what you say," says McCurdy. "Your body language and the choices you make all day long can influence the appearance of leadership, confidence, and assertiveness."
Stand tall, have good posture, speak clearly, and look people in the eye when you're having a conversation with them.
If you're in an argument or caught in between others, managing yourself in this situation, experts tell Bustle, is a true test of positive assertiveness. While you might be tempted to yell, DeWall advises that you can use strategies to make things easier. "Keep an even keel to avoid accelerating emotions during a conversation," she tells Bustle "If you're in a conversation,
withhold judgments or placing blame. While you may look like you're great because you aren't the culprit of the issue, you will likely cause the other person to become defensive which can cause conflict to follow."
With little changes, you can feel more assertive in a very short amount of time. Make your voice heard in an effective way, and you'll get more attention, more credit, and foster a good workplace culture where everybody feels comfortable speaking up, too.