Being Assertive at Work

Jun 14, 2023 | Blogs, Career Advice, Mental Health

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Diverse group of professionals meetingHow do you treat yourself physically? Mentally? Emotionally? How do you express your preferences and boundaries to others?

So many people, especially women, have the disease to please. Practising assertive communication can relieve anxiety in the long-term and allow people to love and accept you for who you are. Having the courage and habit to assert oneself is an act of kindness toward oneself but many people are afraid to be assertive typically because they’re afraid of either:

  1. people’s opinions
  2. hurting people
  3. want to avoid conflict

Let’s do a quick test. How would you typically handle these situations?

  • Your colleague is speaking loudly outside your office door all the time
  • Your boss has the radio or podcast on too loud at work
  • You would like to change your mind about vacation time
  • You’re standing in line, and someone moves in front of you

Do you let it go? Do you address it?  Of course, one needs to pick their battles but if you’re seeing a pattern in your life and constantly having your boundaries violated or left feeling guilty or belittled when you do assert yourself, maybe you need to start changing the way you respond. Don’t know where to start? Here are 3 key steps to being assertive.

Get clear on how you feel about a situation and label your feelings

Before changing anything in your life, you need to develop emotional awareness to make space for yourself and decide how you want to react to that feeling. Eg. “I feel angry” or “I feel uncomfortable or guilty”. The emotion is a messenger that a need is not being fulfilled. Once you identify that feeling, you can move to the next step with more awareness and acceptance.

What boundary was violated for you?

As adult human being, we all have a Personal Bill of Rights. Ask yourself which right did you or someone else not respect? Was it your right to change your mind or your right to not take on other people’s problems? Your right to change and grow? Or was it your right to be angry at someone? Check in with yourself and ask yourself which right is in question.

Practise expressing yourself in an assertive way

It’s not about telling someone off in a mean way (aggressive) or apologising about how you feel (passive), it’s about finding that firm but middle ground (assertive). Many of my clients feel ready to be assertive and understand the importance of it, but don’t know what and how to say the words when confronted with a situation that forces them out of their comfort zone. Here is a basic script you can modify when you are addressing a boundary violation to another person:

  • State the specific behaviour or action that upset you:
    “When you ….”
    Ex. Cancel our meetings every month.
  • State how you feel: Many people think that it’s unprofessional to talk about feelings at work but that’s untrue. It’s unprofessional to cry and yell at someone but saying how you feel is very assertive without putting blame on anyone.
    “ I feel ….” Eg. Pressured, isolated, unsupported, disoriented.
  • State what you need instead:
    “I need….” Eg. To have regular 1-hour check-ins with my manager or I need to know what is expected of me to do my work effectively.
  • Mention the consequences:
    “If …… continues then …..” Eg. If I never have meetings with you, I will have to look for support elsewhere and potentially another job.

Try role playing this with a counsellor or trusted ally to see how it sounds and feels. Being assertive is like a muscle that needs to be maintained and practised, so it might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the easier it will get!

Bourne, Edmund J. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, “Being Assertive”. New Harbinger
2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, Publications, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central



  • Dr. Laura Hambley

    Written by Dr. Laura Hambley, a Registered Psychologist and Founder of Canada Career Counselling. Laura is a thought leader on Career and Workplace Psychology, passionate about career development, having helped individuals and organizations navigate the latest trends impacting today’s organizations since the late 1990s. She is a sought-after keynote speaker for organizations, associations, conferences, and events. Click here to learn more.

    To schedule a 15-minute complimentary consultation with Laura, email our team at [email protected] or submit an inquiry form here. You may be able to use your insurance plan or extended health benefits to cover counselling and assessment fees.