how to be assertive
Clean Thinking, Personal effectiveness

Rethinking how to be assertive

How to be assertive is one of those topics that I’ve always found to be a little funny.

Assertive in what way? Assertive according to whom?

If you’ve ever received the constructive criticism or professional feedback to be more assertive or to be less assertive, and you’re struggling with this feedback, I’ve got some great news for you: You’re fine.

The reason is that “how to be assertive” is not a matter of who you are fundamentally. Being assertive or not, and the degree of assertiveness, is simply a choice.

How assertive you are is 100% optional. Assertiveness is not a fundamental, fixed character trait.

You can opt in, or opt out. You can go in strong, or not. It’s your choice. You might receive feedback from a manager or a client or a colleague to be more (or less) assertive. Remember that this is not a character trait. At any time, and in any situation, you can choose to be more (or less) assertive.

Naturally, there are times when you, me, and any individual feels strongly enough about something that the assertiveness really comes through. Can you think of those times in your past?

I’ll break it down: in those situations, you decided to be assertive because something mattered enough to you. That decision may have been so quick that it didn’t feel like you were proactively making a decision, but make no mistake: you could have remained neutral or gone the other way, yet you didn’t.

Let’s say you determine that it would serve you to be more assertive in a particular work situation. Great! How do you do that, exactly?

Look for a driving force, a reason to pursue, something that matters enough to you. Usually this motivating factor actually has nothing to do with you personally. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is this the right thing to do?
  • Does this support the overarching objective of what the team or organization is trying to accomplish? Which objective, and how does it support?
  • Would this make things easier? Would it simplify our process? How?
  • Does this get us back on track? How or why?

How to be assertive needs to be determined by something other than how you are personally perceived.

Once you can remove assertiveness from ego and fear of perception, and instead move assertiveness to something beyond your own and others’ “positions,” then assertiveness becomes something that is easier to make a more neutralized decision about.

And you can decide!


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