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how to be assertive, colleagues at a bench, pink elephant communications

Assert yourself

They’re approaching your desk.

As a sense of dread develops.

You know you’ll be asked to help.

In a task they were meant to complete.

Should you lend your support when you’re already overloaded?

Or simply dig in your heels?

If only you could assert yourself.

But wait.

It’s easier than you think.

If you just know what to do.

Read on.

How to be assertive

how to be assertive, man pointing at woman, pink elephant communications

So are you aiming to be liked?

But always end up feeling exploited?

That’s what happens when you fail to assert yourself.

And it’s unlikely the person putting upon you likes you any more for helping them.

Because they’re just using you.

You need to break that endless cycle which leaves you exhausted and frustrated.

So here are five ways to assert yourself.

1. Say ‘no’

how to be assertive. say no, man and woman outside

It’s so very simple.

You just have to say ‘no’.

And then politely explain why.

Then make a suggestion.

“Can you take some of my workload as I’ve got too much to do?”

“No, I’m fully committed myself.

“You can speak to the manager if you feel you’re unable to cope.”


“Can you stay on late tonight? We’re short-staffed.”

“No, I have arrangements already.

“I know John was looking to work evenings rather than mornings.

“Have you asked him?”

Otherwise, when you say ‘yes’, what are you saying ‘no’ to?

Dinner with your partner?

Putting the kids to bed?

Or cancelling some recreation you’d planned?

2. Use the word ‘need’

how to be assertive, what you need, man in meeting

So what if you are the one asking for co-operation from your team.

And someone is just dodging commitment?

You keep asking them to finish a task.

And they’re procrastinating.

In this situation, you may be asking yourself how to be assertive.

Employ the word ‘need’:

“David, what I need you to do is have this finished by Thursday.

“Will you make sure that’s done?”

He may have been able to put it off if you’d said you’d ‘like’ it finished.

So assert what needs to happen.

And then ask for a commitment.

3. We’ve discussed this before

how to be assertive, we've discussed this before, businesswomen

A member of your team had previously raised a gripe.

And you’d told them what they needed to do to fix things.

They’re back in your office with exactly the same problem.

Because they failed to take the action you’d recommended.

You feel stuck in Groundhog Day.

In a perpetual loop.

You ask yourself again how to be assertive.

Say this:

“We’ve discussed this before Jane.

“Do you remember what we agreed?”

If the answer is “yes”.

You’re entitled to ask:

“So did you follow my advice?”

And if the answer to that is “no”.

You have to say:

“Well it’s still the same solution.

“Let me know when you’ve done it.”

4. ‘Only by…’

how to be assertive, only by, man and woman discussing

Negative people often want to offload their problems onto you.

Rather than fix things themselves.

So use ‘only by’:

“Harry, only by getting your expenses in on time will accounts pay this month…”

“Sandra, only by spending time learning the new system will you save time in the long run…”

“James, only by joining the calls will you keep up to date with developments…”

‘Only by’ offers a solution to a recurring problem in a positive manner

5. Bringing a conversation to an end

how to be assertive, bringing conversation to an end, handshake

This is one many struggle with.

If someone very talkative has cornered you on the way to a meeting.

And you have to go.

Be direct.

For example:

“I have to go, my meeting’s starting in two minutes.

“Message me and we’ll put 20 minutes in the diary to discuss it.”

Now when you’re having the 20-minute meeting you’ve scheduled.

Be the time-keeper.

When you get the chance, look at your watch while you are speaking.

And say:

“We put 20 minutes aside and we have three left.

“Is there anything else you want to raise?”

Firstly, it’s better to check your watch when you’re speaking.

Because doing so when they are looks rude.

Secondly, you offered 20 minutes, and you’re giving 20 minutes.

That was the deal.

Time is often all we have to offer.

But it’s our time, and it’s too valuable to have it wasted.

A global issue

Bill McFarlan, how to be assertive, Public Speaking, Presentation Skills

These are some of the rules we offer on assertiveness training courses.

We run throughout the UK and across the world.

What is assertiveness?

It’s simply doing what you set out to do.

In a manner respectful of others.

Can people be too assertive?


The balance of doing what needs to be done while respecting others ensures that.

Of course, people can be overbearing.

Or too demanding.

Or unreasonable.

But now you have five rules to deal with all that behaviour.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos by rawpixel.comJopwell and Tim Gouw on Pexels.

19th September 2019 Featured in: Assertiveness training blogs, Blog By:

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