People - Top Tips - Assertiveness



This document is designed as a quick reference guide to assertiveness

This will enable you to gain knowledge of a particular skill, task or process in the workplace. This means you can quickly find the key information that you need and refer to it on an ongoing basis whenever you need to refresh your knowledge.



Assertiveness is a life skill that we use in all situations involving an element of influencing or negotiation. It is about standing up for our rights as individuals, whilst respecting those of other people.

Assertiveness can be compared with passive and aggressive behaviours and sits between the two. This is why being assertive can prove challenging as it is all too easy to move from this into passive or aggressive behaviours and this has a significant impact on the conversations you have.


What you need to know…

Do you consider yourself to be assertive? And what does this mean to you?

It is not always easy to identify truly assertive behaviour. It may be useful to remember these definitions to distinguish between passive, aggressive and assertiveness.


People - Top Tips - Assertiveness


Passive behaviour is based on taking an inferior position. When being passive you emphasise the power of the person you are approaching. Placing yourself in this position the request you are making of the other person often comes across as a favour which can be granted or denied regardless of reason or right. More often than not this approach does not enable you to get what you want.


Aggressive behaviour is based on winning. It requires that you do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others. When you are aggressive, you take what you want regardless, and you don’t usually ask.


Assertiveness is based on balance. It requires being forthright about your wants and needs whilst still considering the rights, needs, and wants of others. When you are assertive, you ask for what you want but you don’t necessarily get it.


Examples of behaviours

The table on the following page shows what you might see / hear when each of these behaviours are being demonstrated. This should help you recognise these behaviours in yourself and others.

People - Top Tips - Assertiveness







Gives in easily

Not overawed

Uses authority


Thinks is inferior

Thinks is equal

Thinks is superior


Soft, Hesitant

Even, firm

Shouting, harsh


Defers to others

Listens, speaks in turn


Eye Contact

None, looking down


Staring, glaring


Sitting slumped


Standing rigid


Closed, small


Sudden, active



Firm but flexible

Cast in stone


Agreeing, whatever

Considers others

Own agenda only


Dithers, Delays

Considerate, Decisive

Rushes in


Submissive, give in

Works to resolve

Must have own way


Inconveniences self

Negotiates for win-win

Inconveniences others


Avoids if possible

Takes willingly

Imposes on others


People - Top Tips - Assertiveness


Assertiveness is no less important in dealing with colleagues than it is dealing with your line manager. Aggression within a team can cause severe problems, while passivity leaves others unaware of your personal needs, and diminishes your input into the team’s final result. With an assertive approach you ask for what you want clearly and openly and explain rationally your reasons- this is best approached by trying not to use inappropriate emotional leverage. By negotiating rationally with the other person you show respect for your relationship and ensure you make a fair contribution to the decision making process. Without this neither party has a clear understanding of the others goals and needs.


Assertiveness is about acknowledging all opinions as important. An assertive attitude says ‘I matter and so do you’. This is critical in our business; historically it could be fair to say our organisation has been perceived as aggressive. To achieve the most from the Way We Work an assertive, high challenge and high support behaviour is the most productive. Learning how to be assertive may seem daunting but there are some steps you can take to help.


People - Top Tips - Assertiveness


Step by Step

 1. Plan your conversations - If you are about to have a conversation where you feel you may need to be assertive, it is worth spending a few minutes considering your options beforehand. This could be prior to a 121 with a colleague or line manager. It falls into a four step process:

     Consider the rights of all parties involved.

     Listen actively to what is being said, and then show the person that you both hear and understand them.

     State what you think, feel or believe about the situation.

     Describe what you want to happen and what outcome you want e.g. constructive Next Steps, a robust audit plan.

 2. Concentrate on issues, not personalities - Remember that you are discussing an incident or an issue, not a personality.

Keep the discussion calm, impersonal and non-emotional; use phrases such as ‘I can’t agree with that’ which states disagreement, rather than ‘You must be joking!’ which implies a personal attack.

3. Be honest and specific - Be specific and descriptive, stick to relevant points, and use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ in phrases such as ‘I’ve been disappointed with your punctuality over the last two weeks’, rather than ‘You can never get out of bed on time, can you?’ If you need to express an opinion present it as that rather than as a fact; ‘I feel that you’ve not been…’

 4. Stick to your bottom line - A good tool to use here is the ‘broken record’ or ‘instant replay’ technique, which consists of repeating the same assertion as often as is necessary; ‘No, that’s not an option I could consider’, ‘No, I couldn’t do that’, ‘As I said, that’s not an option open to me’.

5. Body Language - An important part of assertiveness is open, secure body language. Assertive people generally stand upright but in a relaxed manner, looking people calmly in the eyes with open hands. It is a good step to consider your body language and role play different postures to develop your assertiveness. Just standing in a confident, calm way can feel empowering.