Career Advice / Speak Up

How To Be More Assertive At Work: 7 Phrases You Can Use

. 6 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
How To Be More Assertive At Work: 7 Phrases You Can Use

 When a wound isn’t treated, it festers. Think of anger in a similar fashion. Being unable to speak up at work will not just impact your career but also your mental health! Hence it’s important to know how to be more assertive at work.

A professor once told me that ‘NO’ doesn’t exist in the workplace. He said, “Telling your boss you can’t work late or take up that extra project is a bad reflection on your professionalism.” So, I followed that advice through my first job and then my second; I took up more work than three people put together, caved when presented with a contradictory opinion during discussions, and eventually burnt myself out!

Visibility matters in the workplace. I watched colleagues who spoke up get promotions and responsibilities. Interestingly enough, they spent weekends chilling out while I slogged through holidays trying to finish all the work I had ‘willingly’ taken up.

Being assertive at work also meant their opinions were valued, and that’s when it struck me ﹘ I needed to speak up more. It was hard at first because my colleagues and managers didn’t expect it. The fear of getting fired loomed over my head ﹘ that was until I got my first work-free weekend!

Many people believe that speaking up at work will be detrimental to their career – but is that truly the case? Watch this video to know why you should take that first step to assert yourself at work!

There’s a fine balance between being assertive and being aggressive, so whatever you say, make sure it’s firm and polite. The art of being assertive at work without being aggressive is tough to master but not impossible.

Here are 7 phrases you can use to be more assertive at work, depending on situations that arise.

1. “I can’t make this a priority at the moment, as…”

Bosses are human after all, so they may assign you something, completely forgetting about your current workload. 

But the first time you say ‘yes’, you set a standard for allowing any and all ad-hoc work to come your way.

Instead of saying ‘NO’ straight away when asked to take on an extra task – which can be perceived as unprofessional – talk about its place on your priority list. Follow up with your tasks and deadlines, and even offer an alternative time when you’ll be able to complete the task if it needs to be done by you.

What not to say: No, I don’t think I can do this task.

What to say instead: I can’t make this a priority at the moment. Could I work on it next week?

2. “I understand your point on…; however, I feel…”

For a person who doesn’t like conflict, arguments and debates can be quite intimidating, but they’re also the one place where assertive assertive communication comes in handy.

The next time you’re debating a point with your colleagues, don’t cave in!

I use the ‘first pacify,  then present’ rule. First, mention any point that you understand or agree on, and then present a contradictory opinion. Direct opposition makes people defensive, so easing their minds first will help get your point across.

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3. “The bottom line is…”

How many times have meetings swerved off the agenda due to side-notes and arguments?

It’s easier to go with the flow, but not concluding major points means more meetings, more waiting, and more work. Instead, interrupt any off-tangent talks by clearly stating the agenda, and what needs to be finalised.

You can even end the meeting with concrete takeaways to ensure everyone is on the same page. Back and forth – especially when you have important tasks to finish – can be draining.

What not to say: Can we reconvene to discuss further?

What to say instead: The bottom line is the campaign idea, which we need to finalise today. 

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 4. “Excuse me, I’d like to add….”

The spectator phenomenon is prevalent in passive people, where they listen to two people talk but don’t add anything to the conversation. The good part is that they don’t have to do most of the heavy-lifting; the bad part is that they’re sidelining themselves.

I’ve had colleagues who would rather not say anything because “what’s the point”, but stating your opinion is a right and one you should use. 

In fact, the first time I mustered up the courage to weigh in on something, the confidence that followed was invigorating.

If you have something to add to a conversation, do it. It’ll not only strengthen your voice but will also help in decision-making. However, it goes without saying – butt in only when you have something of value to add.

5. “I’d appreciate it if…”

Your colleagues aren’t mind readers; so, if you need something, speaking up is the only option.

I’d often sit alone and fume when things didn’t go my way; not because my needs weren’t considered, but because I never expressed them in the first place. 

Keeping quiet helped avoid difficult conversations but, in hindsight, added to my anger issues.

Whether you’re asking for some time off or for help with a task, let your colleagues know what you need. It’ll also help build better interpersonal relationships with them.

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6. “I would like to do…; is it possible?”

Remember when we’d rush to grab chocolates from the piñata during our childhood birthday parties? Follow the same philosophy at work – but in a professional, adult manner.

Instead of waiting for the right work to land on your lap, pick the tasks you’d like to do by simply asking if you could do them. 

Tell your colleagues or manager that you’d like to take up certain tasks, and ask if it’s okay.

This way, you’ll get to work on projects you like and your manager will also know what kind of work to assign to you in the future. Win-win!

What not to say: I am okay with taking up any task.

What to say instead: Please could I take up the article for Tuesday?

7. “… isn’t possible. Could we do… instead?”

There are two types of people – the ones who dwell on problems and the ones who find solutions

You can imagine which type tends to be more assertive!

When faced with a problem, make it an instinct to first hunt for a solution. This will also make conversations with others easier as you can present a way to tackle issues. Solution-oriented people are revered in the workplace, so make your stance clear.

Being assertive at work takes practise, especially because it’s easy to mistake it for being aggressive. But this exercise has taught me to respect myself. The next time you need to put your point forward, don’t hesitate to do so!

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