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Main Content

Strengthening Your Assertiveness Ability

Strengthening Your Assertiveness Ability

When you have a strong sense of assertiveness, you're able to defend a point of view and confront others appropriately when necessary.

For example, after analyzing your department's information-technology problems, you determine that the department needs to buy and install a new customer database system in order to serve customers more efficiently and fulfill orders accurately. But you know that Cheryl, your boss, is going to energetically resist the idea of spending money on the new system.

When you present your case to Cheryl, she reacts just as you predicted. You take a deep breath, stand up tall, and say, "Cheryl, I know you feel strongly about keeping costs under control. But avoiding this IT investment just to save money today is only going to cause our costs to skyrocket six months down the road."

You provide Cheryl with more detailed information about how not getting the new database will cost your company in the future – in the form of lost customers and higher customer-acquisition expenses. The conversation turns into a bit of a battle. But after discussing the issue several more times in the coming week, Cheryl eventually agrees to the purchase.

Some people hesitate to demonstrate their assertiveness, because they've been raised to believe that "you shouldn't cause a fuss" or "you shouldn't always be out for yourself."

Certainly, it's appropriate at times to behave modestly or avoid pushing your agenda for the sake of keeping the peace. However, if you always take this unassertive approach, you and your organization will suffer. You'll fail to get the raise you know you deserve or the resources you need to deliver your best possible performance on the job. And your organization won't profit from your good ideas, if you can't present them assertively.

How to strengthen this crucial ability? Consider these ideas:

  • Read a book on assertiveness. Potential useful titles include The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships by Randy J. Paterson, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Assertiveness by Jeff Davidson, and Positive Management: Assertiveness for Managers by Paddy O'Brien.

  • Take an online learning course on the subject. Examples include the "Making a Business Case" module offered in Harvard ManageMentor program developed by Harvard Business School Publishing and any of the courses offered at the assertiveness training sites at or offered by NTL Institute. Your company may have purchased a site license for such e-learning programs. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing modules of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer. Some developers charge a fee for participation in the courses they offer; others offer modules for free.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as particularly assertive. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability.

  • Attend a workshop or course on this subject. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Desensitize yourself. Practice being assertive, at first with relatively nonthreatening situations and individuals, and then with more challenging ones in which the stakes are higher and the individuals involved seem more intimidating or powerful.

  • Develop and rehearse a script for situations or individuals with whom you find it particularly difficult to be assertive. For example, work out precisely what you want to say to your boss when you ask him for a raise next week, then practice your script until you know it cold. The better prepared you are, the more comfortable you'll be asserting yourself during the actual encounter.

  • Role-play assertiveness situations with a trusted friend. Ask your friend to play an individual with whom you intend to assert yourself in the near future. Challenge your friend to try to goad you into losing your composure or faltering in your resolve during the role-play. Come up with practices (such as taking a deep breath to diffuse anger) and specific responses you'll use if the real conversation doesn't go your way.

  • Take emotion out of the picture. When attempting to assert yourself, do you become angry or frustrated when you encounter resistance to your ideas or requests from another person? If so, these emotions can prevent you from presenting a compelling case for your ideas. To take emotion out of the picture, imagine watching the interaction between you and the other person from a distance. View the situation not as "I'm being thwarted!" but as "That person is presenting his ideas to that other person." Look at it from a business perspective: You don't want to deprive your organization of the benefit of your good ideas.

  • Pretend you're standing up for someone else. Have you often found it easier to advocate for someone else than for yourself? If so, draw on that same energy, fire, and confidence that you feel while standing up for someone else every time you're trying to assert your own ideas or requests.

  • Practice. The results are well worth the effort.