As the sales lead in a digital marketing company, Reha oversees a small team of four. The team is working on the digital rebrand for a consumer goods company. Last week, she sent out an email about an urgent update from the client that had to be implemented across channels.

Monday morning rolled in and none of her team members acknowledged her email. Reha is annoyed at their lack of response. She calls an urgent meeting and expresses her dissatisfaction in a clear and assertive tone.

If Reha had lost her cool and shouted at her team members, she wouldn’t have got her point across. Assertiveness is a critical communication skill that’ll help you confront any situation in a calm and composed manner. For leaders, being assertive is even more important because they have to guide everyone on their team.

An important thing to remember is that assertiveness can quickly turn into aggression if left unchecked. There’s a fine line between the two and it takes practice and patience to walk this line like an expert. Let’s discuss how assertive communication can help you become an effective leader, negotiator and a valuable member of your organization. But first, we’ll define assertiveness and highlight the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

What Is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the trait of being confident, bold and firm while speaking to others without being aggressive. If you’re an assertive speaker, you’re able to communicate with someone without sounding forceful or overpowering. An assertive person comes across as respectful, trustworthy and self-assured. You want to get your point across but also listen to what others have to say.

In a professional setting, behaving assertively helps establish your credibility and improves work relationships. It’s a skill that can be learned over time. We should work harder to be more assertive and stand for ourselves and others.

Assertive Vs Aggressive

We’ve discussed the meaning of behaving assertively, now it’s important to understand how it differs from aggressiveness. What is aggressive behavior? Aggressive behavior is being forceful, egotistical and cocky when communicating with someone. There’s an absence of tact or social etiquette when someone is being aggressive.

In many cases, aggressiveness takes the form of bullying. This can include harsh criticism from a manager and feedback that undermines your abilities. If you want to become a compassionate and empathetic professional, you have to understand these fine differences between being assertive and aggressive.

Think about a time when your words were crude or even selfish. Maybe it was a conversation with a colleague or a junior. Remember that you have to say what’s on your mind but not at the cost of hurting someone’s feelings.

Communicating assertively is important in the workplace because you have to deal with different kinds of people daily. Some will try to go over your head while others are too shy to say anything at all. Being able to navigate these different personality traits is the hallmark of a good professional. An assertive nature will help you communicate effectively with everyone you meet.

What Is Assertive Communication?

Assertive communication means getting your point across without disrespecting the other person. You can do that by reading someone’s verbal cues (volume, pitch and tone of voice) and nonverbal cues (body language, gestures and facial expressions). Take the time to understand the other person before you start speaking over them. Communicating assertively comes from a place of mutual respect where both parties are open to the other’s ideas and opinions. In the workplace, you’ll notice assertive behavior in brainstorming sessions and appraisal meetings.

In situations where you have to share ideas with your team, you should be assertive so that your idea doesn’t get lost in translation. Try to speak up for yourself but be careful not to cut off someone while they’re speaking.

How To Be Assertive

There are plenty of ways to become more assertive in your professional life. It requires a lot of introspection and clarity about what you want and why. The right approach is being open to change and a willingness to grow as an individual. You may be quiet, passive, aggressive or indifferent. Assertiveness lies somewhere in the middle of these three attributes and with practice, you’ll be able to find the right balance. Here are some ways to be more assertive:

  1. Learn To Stand Up For Yourself

Remember that in a competitive environment, everyone’s trying their best to stand out. It could be to get a better salary, get promoted or earn credit for their work. You need to distinguish yourself. You can do this by learning how to stand up for your rights and voice.

Don’t let anyone walk over you or put you down. If you think you have great ideas, be assertive when you’re presenting them to your team. Your self-confidence will set you apart from the rest. Believe in yourself if you expect others to believe in you.

  1. Be Empathetic

Empathy means to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they’re feeling—or at least attempt to. When you’re communicating with someone, it’s easy to simply say what you want and end the conversation. But real skill is modifying your words, your tone and your body language according to the other person.

If you find that the person you’re talking to seems distracted, try to understand why. Maybe they’re going through something and can’t focus on what you’re saying. Be assertive to draw them back into the conversation but also ask questions to help however you can.

  1. Voice Your Opinions And Thoughts

In an organization, you have to navigate hierarchy and conflicting opinions. Sometimes, you may be worried about voicing your opinion or going against your manager. But your idea may be the one they’re searching for. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with teammates and managers. For instance, if you don’t like something about your colleague’s workstyle, tell them so you can arrive at a solution.

Recognizing that you have a say in official matters is important for your personal growth. It’ll help you become proactive and work harder to achieve both your personal and professional goals.

  1. Learn To Say ‘NO’

It’s okay to say no when someone interrupts your work or asks you to do something you simply have no time for. Saying no is one of the most important lessons you’ll learn in a professional setting. Many people try to pass on their work to others or take credit for someone else’s work. In these situations, being assertive and saying no will tell the person that you have enough on your plate.

You can work more effectively when you know how much you can do and when you need to take a break. Trying to please everyone is tricky, so develop the habit of saying no wherever necessary.

  1. Invite Feedback on Your Work

Being open to criticism and feedback means that you’re willing to realize your full potential. Invite others like your manager to provide feedback on your work and try to improve where you feel necessary.

But sometimes you may feel that the criticism is too harsh or unreasonable. In this case, don’t shy away from being assertive and expressing your opinion. It’s better not to take it personally and instead focusing on how it can help you as a professional.

Examples Of Assertiveness

Many times, we try to modify our words to avoid offending someone. We use phrases like “I would just like to…” or “I think…” instead of “Let’s do it this way” or “I will be doing this…”. You might think that the former are ways to appear humble, but these do more harm than good. They can undermine your authority and position in your team.

Be confident in what you want to say to get your desired results. If you want a holiday for a personal reason, ask for it! Many of us are guilty of losing ourselves in socially acceptable behavior. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be considerate but not at the cost of losing your voice. Assertiveness can help you say what you want without offending someone. Here are some examples of assertiveness:

  1. Address your feelings and emotions – “I’m unhappy with how this played out. I hope in the future we can work together to resolve this issue.”

  1. Take initiative – “I want to work on this project because I have the right skills and experience.”

  1. Respect your time – “I can’t help you with this right now because I’m already working on multiple tasks.”


Learning how to communicate assertively is important to be a self-aware, respected and credible professional. You have to speak clearly and with clarity to get your point across. Harappa Education’s Speaking Effectively course is a step in the door in your endeavor to master effective and assertive communication. You’ll learn how to convey your message using the PAM (Purpose-Audience-Message) framework and read verbal and nonverbal cues like a pro. Learn to be assertive and stand up for yourself to achieve professional success!

Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about topics & skills related to the Communicate habit such as Effective CommunicationProcess of CommunicationBusiness Communication & Social Skills.