Being assertive is not about being overly aggressive and forceful. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. Assertiveness is the ability to get your point across in a clear, confident, diplomatic manner that makes people want to listen to you, rather than forcing them to.

“Assertiveness involves advocating for yourself in a way that is positive and proactive,” said Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, LLC. “It also means being clear, direct and honest,” she said.

Marter outlined the four main ways in which most people would deal with a stressful situation at work.

Passive – “If you’re passive, you might swallow your feelings and become resentful, which can chip away at your self-esteem and boost stress and anxiety,” she said.

Aggressive – If you’re aggressive, you might lash out by shouting, or react extremely and quit.

Passive-aggressive – “If you’re passive-aggressive, you might call in sick and give your boss the silent treatment,” she said.

Assertive – If you’re assertive, you’re able to express your needs and assert your rights, whilst being considerate towards others.

Mindtools.com agrees that “Assertiveness is based on balance… When you’re assertive, you ask for what you want but you don’t necessarily get it.”

Aggressive behaviour is all about winning “without regards for the rights, needs, feelings or desires of others.”

That sounds like bullying to us.

So how can you learn to be more assertive at work without upsetting other people, or becoming upset yourself? It’s not always easy, but it is possible.

Skillsyouneed.com gives several examples of assertive behaviour, including:

  • Being open about your feelings, whilst controlling your emotions
  • Listening to others and considering their feelings
  • Accepting responsibility and being able to admit mistakes and apologise when necessary.
  • Treating others as equals

It may sound simple, but how do you actually apply these qualities to real situations at work?

Be present

Being in the room doesn’t always mean you’re present. “Demonstrate that you’re completely in the moment by fearlessly listening, acknowledging cues in a conversation, and asking for clarification when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It shows you’re unafraid to both acknowledge you didn’t understand something and get the insight you need,” say Self.com.

Don’t apologise for doing your job

Don’t apologise for having to ask your boss for a third time for something you need from them for a project.

“Are you asking for something or pressing an issue that falls within your purview? Then you have nothing to be sorry for. It would be a misstep not to ask for that draft or follow up on that request. Apologizing in these scenarios is not only needless; it fosters an unhealthy dynamic between you and your co-workers,” says Refinery29.com.

Practice your own response to aggression

Most people react to aggression by responding in kind, or allowing themselves to be bulldozed. Businessballs.com recommends preparing yourself for such situations by having some stock responses to give yourself some thinking time before you respond.

“Practice in your mind saying ‘Hold on a minute – I need to consider what you have just said’ or ‘I’m not sure about that. It’s too important to make a snap decision now.’ Also ‘I can’t agree to that at such short notice. Tell me when you really need to know, and I’ll get back to you.’”