Ask The Expert : How can I learn to be more assertive?

Ask The Expert : How can I learn to be more assertive?

Posted by Amanda Furness

There are now six people in my department but the workload expected of us is at the same level as when eight people were employed.  How can I learn to be more assertive and say “no” the next time extra work is given to me as I feel I’m already pulling my weight and am only keeping my head above water at the moment by working unpaid overtime a few nights a week?

Saying no can be difficult particularly at work when you know it has a direct impact on the rest of your team.  The line between being conscientious and overworked can be a thin one.

Taking a step back and thinking about what is best for the department is a good way of putting things in perspective.  If you end up being unwell or burnt out your department will suffer, so it is important to keep open lines of communication, where possible, if you are feeling that your workload is having a negative impact on your productivity.

By being more assertive we can improve our sense of identity, our confidence and our self-esteem. A snowball effect is created: the more confident we feel, the more assertive we are and so on. By stating more clearly what our needs are, we increase the chances that these needs will be met.

Being assertive leads to a saving in energy and a reduction in tension.   We are no longer preoccupied with avoiding upsetting others, and no longer overly concerned with making gains in an aggressive way. People who are generally assertive are confident people who are simply happy to be themselves.

When you have a difficult message to put across to someone, it is a good idea to plan what you are going to say – in effect write a script, and practice it until you feel confident.

How to Prepare a Script  
Explanation – Feelings – Needs – Consequences

  • Explanation
    Explain the situation objectively and concisely, using only one sentence whenever possible.  Do not include justifications or theories about the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of the situation.
  • Feelings
    Share your own feelings accurately, using an assertive ‘I feel…’ statement rather than an accusatory ‘You’ or ‘It makes me feel…’ Briefly indicate that you have considered the other persons’ feelings or predicament (your empathy statement)
  • Needs
    Say directly and concisely what it is you want or do not want, but ensure your requests are realistic.  If your requests number more than one or two or are quite complicated to explain, make a general request at this stage such as asking for a further discussion or that your written report be given priority attention.  If a compromise is appropriate, include a statement, which suggests that you are willing to negotiate.
  • Consequences
    Spell out the pay-off there will be for the other person should he or she comply with your wishes or listen to your ‘case’ sympathetically or attentively.

In brackets after writing your script, note down the negative consequences you could use to ‘threaten’ or ‘punish’ the other person should he or she not respond to your request.  Then decide whether the carrot (positive consequences) or stick (negative consequences) is more justified.  Although you may never have to resort to using your negative consequences (scripting is so effective!) just noting them down boosts your personal power.

Example  “I am struggling with the workload I currently have and now it looks like it is going to continue increasing (Explanation).  I am beginning to feel quite overwhelmed (Feelings), and although I know, as a team, we are trying to carry on completing the same work with less people, (Empathy) I would like you, on this occasion, to give it to someone else (Needs) as (a) someone else could pay more attention to it and do it properly and (b) I would be able to regain some control over my workload and continue trying my best without becoming ill. (Positive Consequences)


This article’s expert was Jan Lawrence