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Be assertive and better your career

Selena Dehne, JIST Publishing

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No matter how educated, experienced and talented you are, if you're not assertive on the job you're a lot less likely to stand out as a star performer.

Assertiveness is key to all kinds of career fundamentals. You need it to present ideas to your boss and colleagues; ask for help when you're clueless about a project or problem; and make tough decisions. Assertiveness is also an essential ingredient for presenting yourself as someone who's confident, approachable and pleasant to be around.

According to Dr. Daniel J. Ryan, author of "Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities," "Some people believe they are assertive, when in fact they are perceived as meek."

To build your assertiveness and improve your performance and perception in the workplace, consider the following techniques outlined in Dr. Ryan's book.

Be willing to take risks

It is only by taking chances that you can fail, but it is also only by taking chances that you can truly succeed. If you are willing to forgive yourself if you stumble, it will be easier to take a chance.

Be happy about your successes

Don't dwell on negative experiences. Learn from them and move on. Take a minute to enjoy the successes that you have as well. It's okay to be proud of your accomplishments. If someone says "Nice job!," don't say "It was nothing." Say "Thanks. It was a lot of hard work, but I am really happy with the way it turned out." And mean it!

Keep learning and improving

If you need improvement in an area, keep working on it. Ask for suggestions. Ask questions to better understand something. It is far better to ask a question and admit that you don't understand something than to pretend that you do and be stuck.

Forgive yourself

It's okay if you never quite get it down perfectly. Ted Williams was the best hitter in the history of baseball. He has held this distinction even though he failed to get a hit more than 6 times out of 10. Forgive yourself for being human. Although you are bound to make mistakes, so have your parents, your friends and your teachers.

Practice speaking assertively

Be direct. Speak about how you feel, what you see, what conclusions you draw. Do it in a clear and specific way.

Listen to your voice

Listen to yourself talk. Use an audio recorder or have someone else help you with this. Listen for uncertainty. Listen for tremors or signs of no confidence.

Be aware of your body language

If you look meek, you will be perceived as meek. Practice making eye contact. Sit alertly in your chair. Don't cross your arms. Don't fidget.


Listening is crucial to acting assertively. If you aren't sure what the other person is saying, you will be less sure about your response. Listen carefully, check to be sure that you understood correctly if necessary, and then respond.

Be true to yourself

Remember that it's okay to say no. It's okay if others are disappointed. Don't feel obligated to do everything that is asked of you. Don't feel the need to apologize and explain why you can't help.

Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. She is also the author of JIST's Job Search and Career Blog ( Follow her on Twitter at

Last Updated: 08/03/2011 - 4:29 PM

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