In the dynamic landscape of 21st century workplaces, success often hinges on effective communication and interpersonal skills. An essential component of this skill set is assertiveness, the ability to express thoughts, needs, and boundaries while respecting others.
Many individuals (myself included) find it challenging to be assertive, often grappling with internal and external factors that hinder this crucial skill.
So, why is it so hard to be assertive? And why is it important anyway?
Understanding the Challenge of Assertiveness
Being assertive can be a complex task influenced by various factors, including personality, upbringing, and social expectations. The fear of conflict, rejection, or negative perceptions can lead us to adopt passive or aggressive communication styles, hindering the ability to assert ourselves in a healthy and productive manner.
Identities such as caste, race, ethnicity, class, gender, and ability play a significant role in shaping social experiences that then influence our individual communication styles in the workplace. For example, belonging to a particular community or having a disability can contribute to the internalisation of inferiority, making it difficult to assert ourselves confidently.
The Workplace Imperative
Research consistently emphasises the correlation between assertiveness and workplace success. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, individuals who effectively balance assertiveness with empathy are more likely to be viewed as competent leaders. Assertive communication fosters collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation, contributing to a positive work environment and increased job satisfaction.
Assertiveness is a crucial component of professional development — be it in negotiating promotions, salary increases, job responsibilities or simply communicating your needs. Individuals who can confidently communicate their achievements and advocate for themselves are more likely to advance in their careers. Lack of assertiveness, on the other hand, may lead to missed opportunities and stagnant professional growth.
Overcoming The Blocks
Understanding the barriers to assertiveness is the first step toward overcoming them. Psychologists suggest that building self-confidence, setting clear boundaries, and practicing active listening are key strategies for enhancing assertiveness in professional settings. It may not go perfectly — okay, it most likely won’t. However, while the road to assertiveness may be challenging, the benefits it brings to workplace success cannot be overstated.
Embracing assertive communication empowers people to navigate professional challenges, negotiate effectively, and foster positive working relationships. By acknowledging and addressing the hurdles to assertiveness, we can unlock our full potential and contribute meaningfully to our organisations and the world.
Marcia Reynolds. 2019. “How to Be Effectively Assertive”. Psychology Today. Read here.
Moshe Ratson. 2023. “The Impact of Assertiveness”. Psychology Today. Read here
Scott Edinger. 2012. “The One Skill All Leaders Should Work On”. Harvard Business Review. Read here
“Fostering collaboration and innovation: The role of leader humility, team proactivity, and team openness.” Journal of Business and Psychology, 35(3), 343–360.
Benjamin Laker. 2024. “From Ideas To Action: Mastering Assertiveness For Career Gain In 2024” Forbes. Read here
Jonice Webb. 2022. “5 Ways to Become More Assertive.” Psychology Today. Read here