Assertiveness in the Workplace: A Quick Guide

How to Increase Your AssertivenessWhat do you value enough to stand up for?

Being assertive will get you what you want without having to dominate or demoralize someone. This set of skills will help you become more of an advocate, not only for yourself but for others.

Assertiveness is a healthy, prosocial behavior in the middle of a continuum. While no one enjoys being walked on, many dislike being overly aggressive. Respect comes from standing up for yourself. Not only will others respect you, but you will respect yourself for speaking up. You bring value, and what you say is impactful. Share it!

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Assertiveness Definitions

Before we begin, it is critical that we understand what assertiveness is and is not. Assertiveness is sticking up for yourself without causing harm or humiliation to others.

It is standing up for the values you hold. Assertiveness does not impede another’s right to get what you want. It is not coming out as the champion of a heated argument. Assertiveness is knowing when and how to demonstrate your view.

Let’s look at what some researchers say about assertiveness.

What does assertive mean?

Being assertive is a positive personality characteristic that helps individuals show their existence in society (Parmaksiz, 2019). People with this trait are aware of their rights, as well as the rights of others, and can reflect on this awareness. They are a benefit to both themselves and society (Parmaksiz, 2019).

Being assertive is the happy medium between being aggressive and being passive. It involves standing up for something you value.

The meaning of assertively

Assertively is the adverb form of assertive. When something is done assertively, it is done in an assertive manner. In other words, someone has done something confidently and decisively.

Words with similar meanings include emphatic, forceful, insistent, self-assured, self-confident, absolute, assured, certain, decided, demanding, dogmatic, domineering, firm, forward, militant, and positive (, n.d.).

The definition of assertiveness

Listed in the APA Dictionary of Psychology, you will find assertiveness listed as a noun and defined as:

“an adaptive style of communication in which individuals express their feelings and needs directly, while maintaining respect for others. A lack of assertiveness may contribute to depression and anxiety, whereas maladaptive approaches to assertiveness may manifest as aggression.”

American Psychological Association, n.d.a, para. 1

Said another way, assertiveness “involves standing up for one’s rights without infringing upon those of others, whereas aggression involves the use of noxious stimuli to maintain rights” (Richins & Verhage, 1987, p. 94).

What is positive assertiveness?

Positive assertiveness means working to meet your needs while also sometimes meeting the needs of others (7 Steps, n.d.).

Some benefits of positive assertiveness include becoming a better leader, reducing conflicts, reducing frustration, relieving stress, increasing the quality of your relationships (at work and in your personal life), and getting more of what you want in life.

This video will also assist you with a better understanding of positive assertiveness.

How to develop positive assertiveness: workplace morale

The Benefits of Assertiveness in the Workplace

“Allowing yourself to be nonassertive will threaten interpersonal relationships, and emotional problems will arise; lowering self-esteem can even be a ‘time bomb,’ which at any time can threaten the continuity of one’s personal and social relationships and mental health, namely, the risk of anxiety and stress” (Bulantika & Sari, 2019, p. 113).

Being assertive allows you to solve the problem of being misunderstood (Parmaksiz, 2019).

Being assertive can positively influence the following beneficial characteristics that impact social adjustment: expressing oneself, being self-confident, being accepted by others, and being approved by others in social areas (Parmaksiz, 2019).

Being passive may mean someone suppresses their feelings and pretends that everything is OK. A lack of assertiveness may induce anxiety and stress (Bulantika & Sari, 2019). Consequently, being nonassertive may affect workplace relationships because one party could feel used by another.

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How to Be More Assertive at Work

While assertive skills come naturally for some individuals, these skills can be developed through practice.

The first step will be to assess your style. Before you make changes, you will need to understand your personality.

Ask yourself questions such as (Mayo Clinic, 2022):

  • Do you regularly remain silent instead of voicing your opinions?
  • Do you agree to additional work?
  • Do you quickly judge others?

Ask yourself what you are willing to speak up. What are you willing to advocate for or remain firm on?

Finding the right time and cause will be critical. Pushing back against every minor detail could lessen your advantage when speaking up for topics you are passionate about. If you assert yourself at every turn for unimportant issues, being assertive is less likely to work when needed. Choose your battles.

Next, we share a selection of activities to use to improve your assertiveness at work.

1. Role-play and behavioral rehearsal

The American Psychological Association (n.d.a) suggests role-play and behavioral rehearsal to help train clients to be more appropriately assertive in real-life situations.

To role-play, participants act out various roles within a dramatic situation. Similarly, behavioral rehearsal involves teaching effective interpersonal strategies or behavior patterns to the client and then allowing them to practice before using them in a real-life situation.

In both exercises, rehearse what you want to say; use appropriate body language such as an upright posture, eye contact, and a neutral or positive facial expression; and keep emotions in check by remaining calm, breathing slowly, and speaking in a firm, even voice (Mayo Clinic, 2022). Perhaps try these exercises with a friend or family member.

2. Using ‘I’ statements

Clear and specific “I” statements allow us to share our thoughts without seeming accusatory (Peneva & Mavrodiev, 2013).

For example, try saying, “I disagree,” or “I would like you to help with this.” Keep the focus on yourself instead of on your coworker. Use sentences like “I work better when …” instead of “You need to stop …”

Practice saying no. A simple no without hesitation is direct and effective. “No” can be your entire response, or you can provide a brief explanation if appropriate. If this is a challenge for you, perhaps you may consider saying, “No, I am not able to do that right now.”

3. Declare needs

Declare your needs unapologetically. Do not provide multiple excuses when declaring your needs; just declare them.

When asking for time off, do not provide countless reasons, such as the fact that you have been really busy with family issues, you have been having headaches, and one of your coworkers recently got time off. Instead, just firmly ask for time off and say you will be ready to resume working hard when you get back to work.

Sometimes, declaring your needs will require you to refuse a task. In this case, recall what we said about “No.” It can be a sentence in its entirety. Saying no can be difficult; however, it is a necessary part of being assertive (Peneva & Mavrodiev, 2013).

4. Nonverbal communication

As we mentioned when discussing the role-play and behavioral reversal activities, it will be critical to maintain eye contact and body language. Both will convey confidence.

Gaze has the power to modulate cognition and attention (Senju & Johnson, 2009). Not only does it show your attention, but it also commands the attention of the person you are speaking to.

Likewise, be mindful of your tone and volume. You will want your tone to be friendly but firm, and your volume should be loud enough to convey confidence but appropriate for the space that you are in.

5. Stick with it

After declaring your needs, such as a day off, stick with it! If you double back on what you said, you may not be taken seriously in the future.

For example, if you were previously granted a day off and later asked to come into work for a few hours, politely but firmly decline. If you concede, well, you know the next time will not be much different. The same goes for changing your statements. Remember that assertiveness is the “tendency to actively defend, pursue, and speak out” for your own interests (Ames & Flynn, 2007, p. 1). Do not concede.

6. Consequences

Although you shouldn’t have to over-explain yourself, sometimes communicating the consequences of an alternative solution is effective.

For example, “Could we schedule a meeting to reevaluate my job expectations? I feel that with these new demands, I will need to reprioritize my time while at work, or my other assignments may suffer.”

Try not to make threats or be manipulative. Instead, point out natural consequences involved in your request. Think of yourself as the leader of the conversation. Afterall, leadership emergence and effectiveness are positively related to assertiveness (Ames & Flynn, 2007).

7. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is bringing one’s attention to the present moment. Try practicing daily meditation or doing a quick body scan before going into work.

These types of exercises will help you be more present, which will help improve your ability to process your emotions in front of others and have more positive perceptions, which will help in making fewer communication errors (Weliangan, 2022).

Faced with a narcissist?

The American Psychological Association (n.d.b) defines narcissism as egocentrism or excessive self-love. More simply, it is a feeling of superiority over others (Hart et al., 2021).

Dealing with a narcissist in the workplace can be intolerable, but there are a few techniques to make interactions with this personality type more bearable.

  1. Identify the personality type. Understanding that a person has this personality will be the first phase in interacting successfully. Knowing this, you can be assured that this is a personality type, not a personal issue against you.
  2. Set clear boundaries. Explain what you are willing to do or what is and is not in your job description.
  3. Stick with the boundaries you established. If you revert from what you say, this individual will remember and attempt the same control over you in the future.
  4. Formulate an appropriate response. Do not react. Sometimes an appropriate response includes walking away or ignoring the behavior.

If you feel your rights are being compromised, or interactions with this person leave you uncomfortable even after speaking with the individual, it’s time to take action and speak to your human resources department. Workplace bullying is not acceptable, and you do not have to tolerate such behavior.

Examples of Effective Assertiveness

How to be assertiveAssertive behaviors can be proactive or reactive as well as verbal or nonverbal (Ames & Flynn, 2007).

Examples of exercising one’s assertiveness at work may include:

  • Requesting a raise from your boss
  • Asking a coworker to do their share of a project
  • Not tolerating someone’s interruption
  • Suggesting an alternative solution
  • Saying no to additional duties outside of your job description
  • Maintaining boundaries
  • Asserting your point of view or perspective
  • Suggesting another strategy or course of action

Now let’s have a look at the research and real-life examples of effective assertiveness.

“Assertiveness is an important part that supports the development of student academic performance and helps students maintain their social relations to remain harmonious in differences and/or neglect” (Blegur et al., 2023, p. 877).

Unfortunately, peer pressure has the potential to distract students from studying. Assertiveness can prevent this phenomenon.

Blegur et al. (2023) observed, interviewed, and documented 11 university students’ assertiveness strategies. They found that students who showed more assertiveness had good academic performance.

The researchers further identified six strategic models students used to maintain academic performance when tempted by peers with non-academic ventures (Blegur et al., 2023):

  1. Being open, objective, and rational in expressing their aspirations
  2. Being firm and brave when making decisions
  3. Believing in one’s abilities
  4. Prioritizing
  5. Carrying out obligations without disturbing the rights of other classmates
  6. Accepting differences of opinion/views

In their quantitative study, Thangal et al. (2023) investigated the potential effects of assertive behavior on organizational climate. The researchers administered the Rathus Assertiveness Schedule to 57 participants employed at a multinational company in Malaysia.

The assertiveness dimensions included:

  • The right to be respected
  • The right to feel and express feelings
  • The right to make mistakes
  • The right to say no
  • The right to ask questions

The result of this quantitative study emphasized the importance of establishing a platform that encourages employees to feel part of the system. The researchers also noted that although employees may work for the same company and hold the same values, their behavior varies.

Assertiveness may help employees voice valuable opinions and share pertinent perspectives.

Nikolaiev et al. (2023) studied assertiveness in 72 adolescents at a summer camp over 61 days. The researchers employed several questionnaires to help identify and investigate the neuropsychological features of the development of assertiveness.

The results indicated that adolescent assertiveness can be optimized by experiencing effective communication in a specially organized adolescent interaction.

By optimizing assertiveness, adolescents are provided a character tool to help achieve future success.

Additional Resources From has an immense collection of articles concerning assertiveness.

If you would like to help others to be assertive, be sure to check out How to Teach Assertiveness Skills in Therapy: 5 Techniques.

Want to measure assertiveness? Please refer to our article How to Measure Assertiveness: 30+ Questions and Scales.

Building Assertiveness Skills: Top 12 Books and Workbooks is an excellent starting point to create a reading list.

Looking for specific examples of assertiveness in psychology? Then What Is Assertiveness in Psychology? 5 Practical Examples should be your next stop.

In addition to an excellent collection of articles on assertiveness, we highly recommend our Realizing Resilience Masterclass© for assertiveness training. After completing this course, you will be able to help your clients develop assertive skills to effectively advocate for themselves in the workplace with more resilience.

In this course, you will master the six pillars of resilience and learn how to explain and implement the pillars with your clients. The Realizing Resilience Masterclass© is science based and will help you build your workplace assertiveness workshop, training program, or treatment plan for clients.

A Take-Home Message

“Assertiveness is a part of the personal potential. It is a prerequisite for self-actualization.” (Peneva & Mavrodiev, 2013, abstract).

If you are not naturally assertive, know that with a little time and practice, you could become more self-assured and advocate for yourself. Assertiveness calls for conviction. As we learned, assertiveness will lead to a happier and healthy life. You will gain confidence and self-respect. You will be viewed as a leader, and others will seek your opinion.

If these suggestions aren’t effective for you, perhaps try a more formal assertiveness training or consult the assistance of a professional.

Try a few of the suggested exercises and you should be on your way to ask for that raise with confidence. Remember, asserting your boundaries is both your right and your responsibility.

Have you experienced a situation where being assertive benefited you? Please feel free to share in the comments below to help to motivate others.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free.

Ed: Updated May 2023

  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.a). Assertiveness. In, APA dictionary of psychology. Accessed April 12, 2023, from
  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.b). Narcissism. In, APA dictionary of psychology. Accessed May 16, 2023, from
  • Ames, D. R., & Flynn, F. J. (2007). What breaks a leader: The curvilinear relation between assertiveness and leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(2), 307-324.
  • Blegur, J., Haq, A., & Barida, M. (2023). Assertiveness as a new strategy for physical education students to maintain academic performance. The Qualitative Report, 28, 865–885.
  • Bulantika, S. Z., & Sari, P. (2019). The effectiveness of assertive training techniques and thought-stopping techniques to increase student assertiveness ability. Biblio Couns: Jurnal Kajian Konseling dan Pendidikan, 2(3), 109–116.
  • (n.d.). Assertive. Accessed April 12, 2023, from
  • 7 Steps to positive assertiveness. (n.d.). Donna Schilder Coaching. Accessed April 14, 2023, from
  • Hart, W., Richardson, K., & Tortoriello, G. K. (2021). Revisiting the interactive effect of narcissism and self-esteem on responses to ego threat: Distinguishing between assertiveness and intent to harm. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(7-8), 3662–3687.
  • Mayo Clinic. (2022). Being assertive: Reduce stress, communicate better. Accessed April 12, 2023, from
  • Nikolaiev, L., Herasina, S., Hrechanovska, O., Vlasenko, O., Skliarenko, S., & Hrande, K. (2023). The Development of Assertiveness of the Individual as a Subject of Communication. Revista Romaneasca pentru Educatie Multidimensionala, 15(2), 210-228.
  • Parmaksiz, I. (2019). Assertiveness as the predictor of adjustment to university life amongst university students. International Journal of Instruction, 12(4), 131–148.
  • Peneva, I., & Mavrodiev, S. (2013). A historical approach to assertiveness. Psychological Thought, 6(1), 3–26.
  • Richins, M. L., & Verhage, B. J. (1987). Assertiveness and aggression in marketplace exchanges testing measure equivalence. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 18(1), 93-105.
  • Senju, A., & Johnson, M. H. (2009). The eye contact effect: Mechanisms and development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(3), 127–134.
  • Thangal, T., Sham, R., & Co, M. (2023). Assertiveness behavior and organizational climate among workers in a multinational company in Malaysia. Environment-Behaviour Proceedings Journal. 8. 273-278.
  • Weliangan, H. (2022). Mindfulness and assertive communication effect towards husbands and wives marital satisfaction. International Journal of Research Publications, 104(1), 10–10.

What our readers think

  1. Raji

    Thank you for your wonderful guidance.I would like to get more activities that can be given to understand and relieve stress.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Riji,

      Glad you enjoyed the post. If you’d like some more activities to help with stress, you might like to take a look at our free mindfulness exercise pack here.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  2. jenny

    hi… am glad to have come across this article because most of the time, i am unable to be assertive. i don’t know for what reason i feel like am surprised, shocked, freeze when i am being agressed verbally be it at home or at my workplace….i simply can’t retort back and that makes me feel poor afterwards…. thanks again.

  3. Lanelle Renger

    Wow! I’m so glad this was basically put in perspective for me ….thank you


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