6 Signs You're Not Assertive Enough and What to Do About It

Dr. Purushothaman
September 30, 2013

Do you have a sneaking suspicion that you're not assertive enough? There may be some truth to your fear. If so, we'll get to the bottom of it and help you develop assertiveness skills. Answer "agree" or "disagree" to these 6 statements to find out if you're not assertive enough and if becoming more assertive could help you advance your career.

#1: I have a hard time disagreeing with people whose views I think are wrong.

#2: It is difficult for me to say no and I often end up taking on tasks that I don't want.

#3: Because I am nervous about appearing aggressive I may be too passive in my interactions.

#4: Delegating is not my strong suit, and I frequently do more than my share of the work.

#5: It is tough for me to speak up and share my opinions, especially if they are somewhat controversial.

#6: I know I need to promote myself more at work but I dislike marketing myself.

If you answered "agree" to three or more of these questions or if any of these topics hold you back from career success you are probably not assertive enough. Let's examine these items and discuss specific steps you can take to improve each of them.

#1 addresses disagreeing with others.
To disagree with someone you risk appearing rude, argumentative, or unlikable. This is why it is easier to be passive and keep quiet. The problem is that you will not get your ideas heard or acted upon, which can limit your effectiveness and status in your organization.

Have you ever experienced that horrible feeling when you don't say what's on your mind and someone else does, and then they get accolades for the idea? Don't allow this to happen. Practice disagreeing with in less high-stakes conversations. When you disagree, do so with poise and objectivity. Simply state your view and the facts supporting it. Once you gain confidence in your ability to communicate disagreement, take some more risks in challenging situations.

#2 addresses saying no.
A classic sign of a lack of assertiveness is the inability to say no. When you are unable to say no, you lose credibility. You communicate that your time is not valuable and therefore that your contributions are less valuable. When on the other hand you show that you know what you do best and what your limitations are, you exude confidence. This doesn't mean that you should say no to everything except those few things you really want to do. It means that you should prioritize and gain practice stating why you are not the person for select jobs.

When you say no, don't apologize or over-explain why you are saying no. Take responsibility by using "I' statements to show where your strengths are best suited. State your reasons clearly and assertively make your request.

#3 addresses the fear of being seen as aggressive.
In my research I've found that many people who lack assertiveness are afraid of being seen as aggressive or arrogant. They overcompensate and end up on the passive end of the spectrum. We want you to be assertive, which is in the middle and is very different from being aggressive.

Remember that the majority of the impact of communication is how you say it not what you say. If you project a calm and friendly demeanor it is unlikely that you will be seen as aggressive. Remember also that people interpret you in relation to the image they already have of you. If you are typically friendly and thoughtful people will interpret your behaviors in line with this view.

You can assertively make requests and deliver negative feedback, without being aggressive. When you're aggressive you disrespect others' communication by interrupting, demeaning, or criticizing them. When you are assertive you give your opinion and make your request in a way that everyone benefits.

#4 addresses delegating or asking people to do things for you.
When you aren't assertive enough you're preoccupied by worrying whether you're inconveniencing or upsetting others. As a result you do the majority of the work. When you gain experience with delegating you see that people feel good to know that you have faith in their abilities to complete the work.

Another cause of ineffective delegating is thinking that you can do the work better yourself. The assertive action is to train others and give them feedback about how you'd like the work to be completed. Know that doing this may initially be more work for you, but it will pay off in the near future.

#5 addresses expressing your opinions.
When people lack assertiveness, it is difficult for them to share their ideas, especially if they differ from the majority or from an influential person's opinion. The key to getting yourself to share your ideas is to be clear on what they are and how others could benefit from them.

The best way to work on this assertiveness skills is to share your opinions in increasingly difficult situations. You may begin by expressing your semi-controversial views in a conversation with a friend. Then you express your opinions to your direct reports at work. Then you state a potentially unpopular viewpoint with your boss. And finally you express an outside of the box idea in a board meeting in front of your VP.

#6 addresses the fear of self promotion.
It is difficult for most people to self promote and if you lack assertiveness, it is especially difficult. In order to advance in business people must know who you are and what you're capable of, and you can't always rely on others to share this information. It is therefore, critical to gain the assertiveness skill of self promotion.

The first step in self marketing is visibility. Begin by going out of your way to meet various people in your workplace. The next step is to share your ideas to show people what you have to contribute. The final and most important step is to share the results that you have accomplished. When people self promote with vague generalities they are seen as braggarts, but when you point to specific information, you are simply sharing helpful data. The fact that it benefits you makes it a win-win.

As you start to address these six situations and use the tips, you will find that you are outside of your comfort zone. This is a good thing. The key is to take consistent action. Soon you will see not only your assertiveness improve but your reputation and results improve as well.


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