How to Be Assertive

Get tips on becoming more assertive in many different situations.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #133

Today’s article answers a question from a reader whose boss told her to be more assertive. Being assertive can mean anything. It could mean politely saying “No” when asked to take on an extra project. It could mean chatting with your office rival about who gets the next promotion, while absentmindedly twirling your machete, which you “just happened” to have with you.

Understand What “Assertive” Means

If your boss (or anyone in your life) advises you to become more assertive, ask him what “assertive” means. Your boss may not have a specific answer. He may say, “You need to be generally more assertive.” If he says that, grab him by the shirt and pull him so you’re nose-to-nose. Look him straight in the eye and say, “Tell me where, exactly, you want me to be more assertive, buckwheat!” Pause until a drop of sweat drips down his forehead and on to the end of his nose. Then let go and say, “See? I was being assertive! Everything’s good. You can give me that good review, now.” If he doesn’t have you arrested on the spot, he might engage his brain and tell you which situations you need to approach with more assertiveness. Since we don’t yet know where your boss wants you to be more assertive, let’s consider common assertiveness problems.

How to Assert Your Point of View

When it comes time to make decisions, you may need to assert your point of view. My friend Alex says, “Let’s go to dinner. What do you want to eat?” I say, “I’d love a nice tasty salad, and if I have one more order of chicken wings, I think I’ll hurl.” Alex says, “Actually, I want chicken wings.” I say, “Okay. Chicken wings, it is.” That’s called being a wimp.

When you’re assertive, you make sure everyone has heard your point of view and considered it. Assertive Stever would say, “I’m not in the mood for chicken wings. Let’s find a third option we both like. If there isn’t one, we can do our own thing for dinner and go out together some other time.” If you push too hard, though, that’s being aggressive. Aggressive Stever would go ahead and order the chicken wings, and then hurl. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would drive the point home.

How to Be Assertive When Negotiating

Negotiating also gives you a chance to be assertive. Let’s say you’re negotiating a position working on a cool new project. “I want to be team leader and have 500 people reporting to me,” you say. “How about a job as assistant note taker, with six matrix bosses and no employees?” “Sure!” you say, thinking, “At least I’ll have a job.”

When you’re negotiating, walking into the negotiation knowing what you really want will help you be assertive. If you decide you need a team leader position for your career advancement, own it. If the other side proposes a deal you don’t like, stay committed to your original goals. Say, “That doesn’t work for me. I need a team leader position as part of my career advancement.”


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.