Many clients and students come to us with a common challenge: “I need to learn how to be assertive at work.”
You might need to get more assertive to get your ideas heard, command more respect, or get team members to follow through on your guidance more consistently.
How to Be Assertive at Work: Tips and Advice
1. Raise Your Volume
Assertive people tend to speak with very good volume. They are able to get people’s attention just through the loudness of their voice.
By contrast, people who are passive or shy tend to have quieter voices. They also tend to have a poor sense of what is “too loud” or “too quiet.”
So how do you determine your ideal volume?
First, if people tend to ask you to repeat yourself, then your baseline volume is probably too quiet. A person with good volume is always understood clearly.
Second, do you find that in unstructured meetings and conference calls your voice gets lost? You go to say something and then someone else jumps in because they literally didn’t even hear you?
That’s another indication that you’re not loud enough.
In a sense, it means you’re not as “present” in that situation, and you are not occupying emotional or mental “space” in that setting.
Quiet people tend to have a hard time getting louder because it feels uncomfortable.
So you will have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone to start speaking at a different volume.
2. Take Up Space
People who are assertive at work are not ashamed to take up sufficient space.
This doesn’t mean being obnoxious, but rather occupying enough space to be comfortable.
Just like the previous rule, volume, people who are not assertive often find it uncomfortable to take up more space. They are used to making themselves smaller and ceding space to others. Especially in crowded settings.
So you will have to push your comfort zone on this in order to get more assertive.
It will affect both your psychology, and others’ psychology. And it will affect how people sense your confidence and presence.
Amy Cuddy explored the relationship between body language, taking up space, and mindset in her famous TED talk:
3. Get Expressive
Almost all assertive people are expressive, either naturally or as a learned behavior.
If you speak in a very plain, matter-of-fact, or monotone voice, you will not convey assertiveness, confidence or power.
Expressing more emotions when you talk will create a totally different energy.
When learning how to be assertive at work, don’t be afraid to use your hands and facial expressions.
And don’t be afraid to get creative in your word choice. Use interesting language that goes beyond cut-and-dry informational words.
Use more descriptors, more flourish and more variety in your vocabulary.
When giving a presentation, consider using props, tools or more engaging visuals.
Think about how you can communicate beyond the words.
Again, this usually requires pushing your comfort zone.
4. Be More Talkative
Assertive people tend to be very verbal. This goes hand-in-hand with being expressive, taking up space and raising your volume. It’s all connected.
You might be thinking, “but I’m just not a talkative person.”
I understand. I’m an introvert myself. I am NOT a big fan of small talk.
But I have learned to accept small talk and use it strategically for the purpose of connecting with people.
Being talkative, strategically, allows you to “mark territory” in your interpersonal dynamics.
It sends the signal that you are someone to be paid attention to.
The more you talk, the more you are taking up “mental space” in the meeting or in the team.
When you’re not talking, people don’t hear your voice. So you are perceived to be not as “present” as others.
This makes a big difference in how you are perceived.
Fundamentally, assertiveness is a philosophy. It’s a general mindset, and a way of showing up in a professional setting.
Which brings me to the last point.
5. Reach Out to Others
When coaching clients on how to be assertive at work, I always emphasize that this skill goes above and beyond verbal communication.
Think about your overall lifestyle. How do you show up in the organization? Is your network active and dynamic?
How present are you on social media?
How vocal are you over email or over the different mediums that people use to communicate in your company?
Assertive people reach out and initiate conversations and relationships.
What I frequently see with clients or students who aren’t assertive at work, is that they keep to themselves.
They don’t just keep to themselves conversationally in real life. They also keep to themselves in general: on social media, over email, and over text.
They don’t really reach out to people. They don’t initiate conversations and they don’t ask people questions.
The good news is that, if you’re an introvert, or if you’re low-key or shy, you can leverage social media and digital tools for your advantage.
You can use them to begin the process of building assertiveness, even if you’re not fully comfortable with the in-person stuff yet.
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