Assertiveness in the workplace

Being assertive in the workplace is a balancing act. You need to be assertive to push your points or concerns across, however, you would not want to be overbearing. Read on as we discuss this topic through the following 5 questions.

  1. Being Assertive- what are some benefits that an employee will receive if they make their needs and wants to be known to employers/supervisors vs those that never voice their concerns?

Being assertive at the workplace translates into being confident and not being afraid to share what you want or believe in. This reflects a person who is In charge of their own actions and choices and knows when to speak up. Assertiveness translates into positive, respectful and confident behaviour that at the same time understands the needs and feelings of others.

Being assertive has tremendous benefits in the workplace:

  • Being able to sell/pitch your ideas to others
  • Enhances visibility of what you are capable of and how you see things
  • Gaining respect of the management and your team when you are willing to share and are open to discussion
  • Results in win-win situations

It may seem obvious that this would be something all of us would do but may not able to do so. There are several reasons for this:

  • Fear of being blacklisted or impacting perceptions
  • Culture of putting others in authority on a pedestal and therefore speak only when spoken to (Power distance – hierarchy)
  • Comfort zone of not rocking the boat and maintaining the status quo
  1. For those lacking self-confidence in being more assertive at work and establishing their presence, what are some steps they can take to develop this?

Some strategies that can be employed to increase assertiveness are:

  • Greater self-awareness of why we are not as assertive as we want to be.
  • Reflecting on what holds you back and what fears inform your choices to hold back sharing your thoughts and beliefs
  • Self-talk is important. What are you saying to yourself? Do you believe that you add value to others? Believing in yourself and the value that you can add to any conversation or discussion is pivotal to being assertive.
  • Initiate conversation and volunteer information
  • Act on your convictions
  • Practice makes perfect. Imagine yourself speaking up and then doing it in front of a mirror. Say it to yourself.
  • Think through what you are going to say and calm yourself before speaking.
  1. At the other end of the spectrum, what are some signs that an employee has to look out for that they are overly assertive to the point of overbearing? How can they correct this?

Often someone who is overly assertive is viewed as being aggressive. An aggressive approach is perceived as confrontational, antagonistic, insistent or forceful.

In order to be less perceived as less aggressive, the person has to

  • Be more self-aware. Sometimes we have our blind-spots and are not aware of how others are impacted by our actions. The first step to effective change is acknowledging and recognising that we need to do something different. To do so you need to listen to yourself and how you come across to others.
  • Be open to and ask for feedback. Asking for feedback is a continuous learning and self-calibration process. It provides the person with insights and raises awareness of how their actions affect others that form the basis for change. An effective way to do so is through 360-degree feedback tools.


  1. How important is being assertive at work in today’s market? Given the competitiveness in the job market, is it a quality that employers seek to have in their employees?

The future of work today is characterised by:

  • Jobs are changing and jobs are being displaced. Jobs that never existed before are being created
  • Technology and automation is changing the way we work
  • Global multi-national virtual teams are becoming norm
  • Flexi times and working from home will be the order of the day

According to current research, the 5 must-have qualities of the modern employee can be synthesised as:

  • embracing change
  • having a voice in your company
  • being autonomous and self-directed
  • sharing and helping others build high-value networks and communities
  • being able to distill down to what is crucial, filter and focus

In such an environment, being assertive at work is a must-have skill that enables employees to showcase their value-add while at the same time being able to hold proactive growth discussions with their employers.

  1. Having an open conversation with your supervisor /employer about your career goals and ambition to progress within the company – what is the best way to approach it?

Having an open conversation about career growth involves in putting across your point of view positively. To do so it is important to be:

  • Be prepared – Do your homework. Understand your career roadmap and what skills and knowledge you have developed over the years that will fit into the roadmap. Appreciate your strengths and aspirations.
  • More importantly, share your strengths, interests and aspirations
  • Be open to feedback and areas for development.
  • Be prepared to ask questions about where the opportunities are in the organisation. Understand the perception of your supervisor towards your strengths and aspirations and the extent to which it is aligned to the organisation’s career growth opportunities.
  • Commit to and work on developmental areas
  • Be prepared to demonstrate your progress to your supervisor in the identified developmental areas.

Do you have questions after reading the article above?

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