How to be More Assertive at Work (Not Aggressive)

Written by Nan Nan Liu | Researched by Matthew M | Strong Female Leaders

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How to be more assertive at work, and not aggressive?
There is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive in the workplace. You want to be respected at work, increase your command presence, and speak up for yourself and for your team, yet you also want to avoid appearing hostile, putting others down, and making accusations. In high-stakes situations, being kind AND assertive at the same time is possible, as long as you put forth the effort to learn and practice this trait. When your natural people skills are sharpened to tackle tough conversations, they can help you become more influential at work, gain others' trust and respect, thrive in your career, and be seen as a true and deserving leader.
Below are some ways you can be more assertive at work, without being aggressive.
1. Be More Direct
Many women speak with passive language, in order to appear nice, only to appear soft. For example, instead of stating that "I need those documents completed by 5 p.m.," they say, "I was sort of hoping that you could finish this assignment soon."

Words such as "sort of," "I think" and "It would be great if" lessen the importance of the task at hand, as well as the importance of the person assigning the task. Setting specific deadlines, spelling out details and speaking with a firm tongue can only improve your image as a respectful female leader, and correctly communicate the assignment's expectations and your own significance.

2. Be Open Minded
When pushing for your own agenda, strike a balance between passion and empathy. It's great that your solution appears to be the most brilliant; however, other team members offer valuable insights too. Having an open mind gives you control over your emotions in situations that you don't have control over. You may not get your way all the time, but you will have more information to make a decision with, and do it with confidence.
3. Be Ready to Walk Away
During tough negotiations such as negotiating salary increase or contracts, be ready to walk away if the situation becomes combative. As great as it is to stay loyal to your organization or nab that contract from competitors, if you don't get what you are worth, then you should look for more attractive opportunities. You are better off focusing your energy on seeking new opportunities than selling yourself short.

Still can't walk away? One method is to separate your options into one of two categories: a must-have section and a nice-to-have section. If anything in your must-have section is not met, then ready yourself to walk away, respectfully, assertively and with your head held high.

4. Have Contingency Plans Ready
Let's face it: you will never get everything you want. In order to face disappointments with grace, you can stay confident by preparing contingency plans. A fear of failure exists in even the most successful individuals. To ease your own fear of failure, having Plan B in your back pocket, even if you don't need it, can help you be more assertive in tricky situations.
5. Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Many women suffer from Imposter Syndrome, which is "a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud." Feeling like an imposter can paralyze you to speechlessness in high-stakes situations when you need to be heard the most. If you believe that you don't deserve the job that you have or the accomplishments you have worked hard for, then you will never assert yourself the way a successful female leader should.

One way to overcome Imposter Syndrome is to focus on the process, instead of how you feel and what others think about you. Focus on what you are doing, right now, and what you hope to accomplish, right now. Be action-oriented and not judgement-oriented. And just pretend that everyone wants to see you succeed. So, why shouldn't you?

6. Visualize Positivity
Being assertive in the workplace isn't all seriousness. You can be happy, smiling and still assert yourself confidently and respectfully. To do so requires having a positive mental attitude, full of affirming thoughts.

What are you grateful for today? Who makes you happy? When was the last time you really laughed? What are your happiest childhood memories?

Point is: there are many ways to fill your head with positive thoughts. During tense times at work, you may need to look harder, so start practicing, and practice often. And, if all else fails, just stand tall, pull your shoulders back, and smile.

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