How to Be More Assertive at Work
If you struggle to speak up at work, you’re definitely not alone.
Our desire to do well and please others (especially colleagues and superiors) often results in avoidance of conflict to the point where it becomes harmful for mental health. No one wants to start a fight and risk losing their job. You may have experienced the resentment and burnout that can occur if you stop expressing yourself at work. If you have a tendency to become nervous around your boss or not speak up when you really want to, we have some simple ideas to help guide you through this common workplace issue.
There are always ways to approach conflict at work and speak up for yourself without causing unnecessary drama. You can’t control how others act and respond to you, so you must commit to controlling yourself. Shifting your behavior starts by shifting your thoughts. Today, we will show you some simple techniques to take you from feeling disempowered to enthusiastic about your role in your workplace.
How to Practice Being Assertive in Your Workplace:
1. Start with the Little Things
You can start your new assertive communication style in little ways, like saying where you would like to go for lunch or taking a ten-minute break when you’d normally power through the day without stopping. Practice makes perfect; it helps you become more comfortable with speaking up and it shows others you’re committed to setting and maintaining standards for how you should be treated. Asking for someone to cover for you so you can take that long-deserved day off or saying no when someone asks you for yet another favor are also great ways to assert yourself.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to apologize for setting boundaries. It actually builds stronger relationships when you’re transparent and honest. If you’re being harassed or someone is putting you down, find a way to respond that isn’t with anger but makes it clear that their behaviour is inappropriate and doesn’t contribute to a healthy workplace.
One scenario people often deal with in professional settings is passive-aggression. This is often a habit picked up early in life through one’s own social environment. Know that if someone is being passive-aggressive, they are likely not aware of how their energy affects others. You can dissolve this negativity by asking to have a one-on-one conversation with them and present the idea that you want them to feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns or expressing themselves safely. Presenting a positive way of interacting can help build trust and friendship through empathy. You can be upfront that you feel they don’t always share how they’re feeling and that you are open to feedback.
2. Write Down Specific Things You Want to Communicate
Addressing our concerns at work means we first need to break the habit of pushing our thoughts and feelings aside. We can do that by getting clear about what we are pushing down, how much we are suppressing, and why.
Every time you’d like to say something out loud but choose not to, write it down. At the end of the day, look back at the list and see what you’ve accumulated. For each one, ask yourself why you didn’t speak up - not everything needs to be said, but some things do. Identify at least one item on the list that you’d like to speak up about most, then think of how you could communicate it in a polite, non-emotional, and honest way. Think about how to present the issue as either something that is lowering your efficiency as an employee or raise a concern that has ample information to back it up.
If you’re unsure if you should communicate something, check in with your intention and make sure it aligns with the goals of the organization or the wellbeing of yourself and your coworkers. Some people feel entitled to more than they deserve and it’s important to be able to recognize if we fall into that category. If you’re communicating that you feel overworked, underpaid, or mistreated, make a list of the value you’re adding to your workplace and frame your concern around being able to be your most valuable to the overall mission of the organization.
If necessary, have a conversation with your employer or manager and communicate in a mature, friendly manner. But, don’t be so submissive that you don’t share what is important to you. Ask for feedback on how you can improve to change the situation. This candid conversation allows for a healthier dynamic.
3. Use Visualization & Affirmations to Set Boundaries
If you have left a job because you felt taken advantage, it may be time to shift the way you establish boundaries for yourself.
You can start by visualizing yourself communicating (in a clear and pleasant way) what you need from your employer, whether that’s consistent lunch breaks, a salary increase, or more assistance on projects. When you rehearse a conversation in your own mind, it can take some of the pressure you’re feeling off and make you realize the worst case scenario isn’t likely to happen.
You can also use affirmations to retrain negative, limiting thought patterns. If you keep repeating thoughts that you can’t speak up about, override them with an affirmation such as, “I say what is important to me and I have a good intention behind what I say.”
If you feel you’ve been a pushover and it’s affecting your confidence self-image, try an affirmation such as, “I feel good about myself because I respect myself as well as my coworkers.” This allows you to start seeing the positive energy that you can generate with your own assertiveness.
4. Positive Energy Fuels Positive Change
The blame game and playing the victim don’t allow you to see how your own energy and actions affect your experience at work.
That said, you want to try to achieve a balance. Being overly positive can often lead to inner resentment. If you’re always ‘great’ when a coworker asks how you are, you’ll have a tough time communicating when you’re swamped, plagued with anxiety by too much work, or really dreading the uncomfortable stares of a rude coworker.
You can address your own behaviour by re-framing your perspective from inside. The most positive way you can practice self-love is by accepting and honouring your own needs. Facing the fear within yourself and tackling it head-on will help you practice being assertive. Loving yourself is a great way to start bringing positive energy into your workplace.
If your thoughts are negative at work, you may be attracting negativity. Use an affirmation that puts your mind in a positive state to start to empower yourself. You can override feeling powerless or like you don’t matter with affirmations as well. Try something like “I uplift the energy in the workplace so everyone feels comfortable here,” or, “the positive energy I bring to work is valuable to everyone.”
Stand Up for Yourself!
Bottom line? You deserve to be comfortable and safe at your workplace, and you’re allowed to speak up when you aren’t being treated fairly.
Being assertive is not synonymous with being rude or combative. It’s not synonymous with bossy. It’s simply demanding the respect you deserve. When we take responsibility for our energy and direct our thoughts to a place of self-love, we can be both assertive and see our situation with more clarity.
If you’re reading this and feeling like you still can’t be assertive because your boss just doesn’t get it or they are just plain mean, try the techniques before you let your mind convince you they don’t work. Perhaps you’ve been painting only a negative picture in your mind of the person you work for and missing some of their good qualities. If you have applied the techniques and still feel shut down and not respected, then it may be time to find a kinder group of people to work with.
There is no shame in addressing communication issues and wherever you find yourself today is fine. Love yourself in the process and be hopeful because wherever you direct your energy, you can create that type of reality. Change is possible when we set our intention on what we want.
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