How to Be Assertive

Get tips on becoming more assertive in many different situations.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #133

How to Be Assertive When Giving Negative Feedback

Keep the message about facts, not interpretation.

When you have to deliver negative feedback, be assertive by saying what you have to say forthrightly but with compassion. Don’t hedge it. Don’t get all caught up in emotion. If you’re tempted to start your sentence with “I’m so so so so sososososososososo sorry to have to tell you this. I really am. And I’m sure you meant well. And I like you as a person and we’ll still be friends won’t we? PLEASE DON’T HATE ME!” that’s a sign you’re not being assertive. If you’re afraid of causing someone pain, keep the message about facts, not interpretation or statements about the person. Say what you need to say calmly and compassionately. “Bernice, you promised a status report last Monday. You delivered it ten days late. Though you did include that, er, remarkable cover with stars made out of gold glitter, that doesn’t make up for the missed deadline.”

How to Be Assertive When Delegating

If you delegate by suggesting possibilities, you’re probably not being assertive enough. “Les, do you think there’s a possibility that you might find the time sometime—no hurry!—to begin pondering our potential next course of action?” Les can’t act on this. Are you asking for something important? Are you even asking for something at all? Asking softens a request, but you don’t want to soften it to the consistency of pudding. Give the delegation clearly, and if you want to soften it by making it a request, give them choices about some other part of the project. Rather than asking, “Do you think you could finish the report by Monday?” say, “Please finish the report Monday. Do you think you’ll have time to bind it with gold glitter stars on the cover?”

To be perfectly clear, be exact about the deliverable, the due date, and the priority. “Les, please finish vendor interviews by Friday. By next Wednesday, please give me your top three recommendations with rationale. That is your top priority this week and supercedes everything else.”

It’s hard to know what your boss means when he tells you to be more assertive. Have him get specific about where and when he wants you to be more assertive. Then find ways to deal with those specific situations. In any event, you can start by being more assertive about decisions, negotiating, giving feedback, and delegating. Talk to your boss today, decide what to change tomorrow, and report back by Friday. Until then…

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Businesswoman image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins 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.