Wed | Dec 12, 2018

How To Increase Your Assertiveness

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The caterers made an equal number of plain cake and fruitcake. Not surprisingly, the fruitcake ran out, leaving some unmet demand. I told my waitress that I needed my fruit cake and that she should make sure that I got some. As we got up from the table, one of the participants in the 3-D Leader Certification programme shared that he wanted to be able to do what I did. He wanted to be more assertive.


When the waitress brought my fruitcake, I pointed to one key to being assertive: The pay-off.

Doing a cost/benefit analysis of taking assertive action provides a great incentive for modifying your behaviour. I could have taken the route of passively accepting that there is no more fruitcake. By speaking up, I got the pay-off of satisfying my needs.

This request for guidance into how to be more assertive or bold is frequent and cuts across gender, levels of education and culture. Some individuals' natural behavioural style is to be reserved and avoid disturbing the status quo. Some even give up their rights for a peaceful life. Place greater value on the pay-off for success.


A second step will help you to increase your assertiveness. Getting the fruitcake was not really important to me. I just felt like playing out the scene to see what would happen. I was not emotionally invested in actually getting the fruitcake. That produced two benefits.

I was relaxed and, critically, I did not have the urge to feel guilty about inconveniencing the caterers. It was all good-natured without any animosity. This is important for individuals whose natural tendency is to retreat and submit rather than upsetting others. You can be assertive without being confrontational or overbearing.

State your request instead of leaving your needs unmet. Remember, you were willing to walk away empty-handed. Consequently, you are well positioned to calmly go through the process.


Another fundamental shift in mindset is to appreciate that your use of assertiveness need not be a permanent modification of your behaviour. You can selectively use assertiveness and return to your comfort zone. This is relevant because while you see the value of being assertive in some situations, you also dislike some forms of persistent aggression and pushiness that you encounter. You would hate to be seen in that light. Fear not. Step up only when the cost/benefit analysis indicates that it is expedient to be assertive, and then return to your natural state.


One factor that fuels a reluctance to be assertive is the apprehension about some negative fallout. What if the cost outweighs the perceived benefits? If I volunteer my thoughts on an issue, what if others disagree or, horror of horrors, what if they snicker? Should I run the risk of embarrassment?

To address this apprehension, you should check your track record. When you listen to the discussion among colleagues, are they expressing pearls of wisdom that are above your head or did you have unexpressed thoughts that could add value?

Getting to really know yourself and accepting that you are informed and able to make valid contributions will boost your self-confidence and allow you to be more assertive.


Following these steps is going to be uncomfortable for a while. You will be increasingly comfortable with practice. Consequently, go out of your way to seek out opportunities to be assertive.

For example, you could volunteer to share your expertise (yes - you have expertise) with a group. Let the guidance counsellor at your alma mater know you would like to address a small group of students.

Or you could refuse to accept poor customer service. Also, why not speak to your supervisor about an issue that is impacting performance?

Review this document weekly over the next three months and implement the guidelines to step out more boldly whenever you need to be more assertive.

Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour modification and team cohesiveness coach with the Success with People Academy, home of the internationally accredited Certified Behavioural Coach award and the 3-D Leader Certification: Leading Difficult People. Register now: