“Assertive” Is Not an Insult

Enough already with hiding behind an introverted personality. You still have the right—and a responsibility—to talk about your thoughts and feelings OUT LOUD to other people at work. This means you are being assertive, not aggressive. If you’re not sure why it’s important to conquer your fear and directly address problems and issues in the workplace, read my blog post: “Conflict Avoidance: It Doesn’t Make the Problem Go Away.”

What It Means to Be Assertive

You’re assertive if you express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in an honest, direct way that’s appropriate to the situation. You get your meaning across, but in a way that preserves your rights and dignity. If others regard you as a pushover, or you think it’s better to be well-liked than well-respected, you’re not assertive enough.

Are you assertive? Yes, if you:

  1. Express negative feelings about other people and their behaviors without using abusive language (“I disagree with the way you handled that client interaction, and I’d like to discuss alternatives.”)
  2. Know what your strengths are, and you use them
  3. Easily recognize and compliment other people’s achievements
  4. Ask for what is rightfully yours (“I have put in the time, and now I need some time off.”)
  5. Accept criticism without being defensive
  6. Feel comfortable accepting compliments
  7. Stand up for your rights (see “My Assertive Bill of Rights” below)
  8. Refuse unreasonable requests from friends, family, or co-workers (“No, I can’t work that shift for you tomorrow on such short notice.”)
  9. Comfortably start and carry on conversations with others
  10. Ask for assistance when you need it (“Can you please help me run these month-end reports? I’m not going to be able to get them done by myself before the deadline.”)

Do eight or more of these statements accurately describe you? If not, you have got to start taking baby steps and practice being more assertive. Otherwise, you will spend the rest of your life getting walked on. Other people’s feelings and rights are NOT more important than yours. You will NOT offend other people by being assertive. You ARE important enough to express your feelings and rights.

In fact, I’m going to give you your bill of rights, so that you know exactly what they are.

My Assertive Bill of Rights

  • I am allowed to state my thoughts and feelings out loud, even if someone deems them negative or illogical.
  • I have the right to request that another change his or her behavior if s/he is infringing on my rights. That person might not change, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask.
  • I have the right to take my time when answering questions. I don’t have to respond immediately, even when someone is being demanding.
  • I have the right to say, “No,” to unreasonable requests and demands.

What Aggression Looks Like

Are you aggressive? Yes, if ANY of these statements are true about you:

  1. You become abusive—verbally or physically—when criticizing others (e.g., calling names, using foul language, using intimidating body language, throwing things, raising your voice).
  2. You think it’s OK to have angry outbursts at work.
  3. You purposely make others feel like they are incompetent or unimportant.
  4. You make unreasonable demands of other people.
  5. You brag about or exaggerate your achievements.
  6. You ignore the rights and feelings of other people.
  7. You aim to get your way at all costs.
  8. You often dominate conversations with others.
  9. You think that intimidation is the only way you can get what you want.

Listen, you can’t do this stuff at work. Your kids, spouse, or friends might tolerate it, but they sure don’t like it. And at work, it’s inexcusable. You will get fired, or you will lose your best people. The cost is just too high. Go see a psychologist, and start changing your behavior immediately. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but you need to take steps starting today.

Here are some tips:

  • Be cognizant of your expression and body language at all times. Are your brows furrowed? Do you cross your arms or lean threateningly toward people?
  • Do not act hastily or in anger. Remain calm, cool, and collected. Take your time! If you feel triggered, excuse yourself for 30 minutes, then revisit it. If you still can’t get it under control, set an appointment to discuss it the next day.
  • Avoid making mountains out of molehills. Not every infraction or injustice is worth a battle. Learn to let some things go.

Following these simple suggestions will present you as someone who is confident and optimistic, as opposed to someone who is hostile and angry.

What Would Shawn Do? Understanding Social Styles at Work


The person we hired as a practice manager is very smart and good at her job, but her lack of communication is driving me crazy. She doesn’t respond to small talk, and I can’t seem to build a relationship with her. I keep reaching out, but she’s all about work, work, work. I don’t know if I did something to offend her, but I’m uncomfortable, and I find myself avoiding her. What do you recommend?


What we have here is a difference in social styles. Based on your behavior, it sounds like you’re an amiable. She’s either an analytical or a driver, depending on how assertive she is when she gets her ideas across. One style isn’t any better than another. Understanding how you’re different will help you approach the new manager in a more positive way.

Angry businesswoman

The main difference between you and her is how much you focus on feelings. Amiables are very concerned about feelings and want everyone to get along. They tend to ask questions rather than make statements. The worst amiable stereotype is a Chatty Cathy who never gets anything done.

Analyticals also tend to ask questions rather than give orders, but they are focused on accuracy almost to the exclusion of all else. The worst analytical stereotype is “detail-oriented.”

Drivers want to get things done. They’re task-focused and assertive. The worst stereotype of a driver is a workaholic. Neither the analytical nor the driver pays much attention to feelings, especially at work.

Remember that this IS work, and even though you’d really like it to be otherwise, you and the new manager are probably not going to be best friends. She may be overwhelmed by all of the friendly overtures you’ve been making. She may think you’re in her space way too much and not letting her get her work done. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid her. Try out some of these techniques and see if she’ll warm up to you:

  • Emphasize the rational, objective aspects of the issue you’re dealing with.
  • Speak slowly and quietly.
  • Be more formal in your speech or manner than you would be otherwise.
  • Present pros and cons, as well as options.
  • Don’t overstate or exaggerate the benefits of your ideas.
  • Follow up in writing.
  • Be on time, and keep it brief.
  • Show how your approach has little risk.