Career

7 Ways To Be Assertive At Work That Are Helpful Instead Of Annoying

Battling the minefield of the workplace isn’t easy, especially if you’re new to the game. No one wants to feel like they’re fading into the background, so it’s important to be confident in your abilities but not step on anyone’s toes in the process. Here’s how to assert yourself without irritating your co-workers or boss.

As Millennials take on the working world, there’s increasing noise about the type of workers they are. With articles casting them as aggressively assertive, entitled and over confident, Gen Y aren’t getting the best wrap. While these stereotypes and labels may cast unfair aspersions over our collective generation, there are ways that young workers can behave in the workplace to distance themselves from judgement of the “reach for the stars” generation.

Learning how to be humble and assertive (without being aggressive) when tackling new tasks will go a long way towards enabling you to grow in your workplace, and your colleagues’ appreciation of your efforts to grow alongside you. Here are a number of steps you can take to ensure you put your best foot forward, without crushing any toes in the process.

#1 Learn about your workplace’s culture before you try to change it

When you start a new job, take a step back to learn about the standard practices and history of your workplace and team. Whether you’re coming into an entry level position or you’ll be higher up on the managerial scale, making an effort to understand the existing culture before you start suggesting changes or improvements will mean those suggestions come from a place of understanding, not perceived condescension.

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Demanding that things be done differently or the way you like them from day one may come off as disrespectful to the established team.

#2 Learn from others you respect

Think of something you’d like to know more about – whether it’s the organisation’s policies, a co-worker’s job or an element of your own role – and take your manger or co-worker out for coffee to learn about it from them.

No amount of study or prior experience will get you to a place where you know everything, but making an effort to show others that you’re interested in learning lets them know that you value their insight, and will put you first in their mind when further learning opportunities come up.

#3 Offer to assist when able

Millennials have had more education opportunities and are more familiar with technology than any other generation. If you see that a colleague is struggling with something that you can do (for example using a computer program or understanding tech language) offer to help them with it, rather than taking the job off them. Do this without being condescending by showing your appreciation of the skills and knowledge that your colleague can teach you in return.

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Figure out how they’ll learn best, whether they want the task demonstrated to them or would like to do it themselves under your guidance, and once they have learnt to do it make yourself available for follow up questions. You might even offer to do a quick crash course with the rest of the staff. This way, you’ll have improved your team’s skills, making your workplace more productive, and you won’t find yourself loaded up with all the work that others didn’t have the skills to do.

#4 Prior to each staff or team meeting, add your one thing to the agenda

Staff meetings can be tough territory to negotiate. Being the loudest person in the room doesn’t mean that your input is valuable, but staying quiet won’t get you noticed either. Give some thought to the most valuable point you could make or question you could ask during the allocated time, and prepare your talking points and any resources you should bring along to illustrate them in advance.

Taking this initiative will establish you as an assertive team member, but not someone who aggressively lays down their agenda and doesn’t allow others the chance to speak. It’s also important not to just talk for talking’s sake, because then you’ll become that person who drags meetings on unnecessarily.

#5 Know what or who you advocate for

Chances are, you’ll have a list of KPIs to meet in your job each quarter or year. These goals will help you understand your purpose in the workplace and whose interests (other than your own) you should be promoting. For example, if you’re in charge of customer relations, then make it your business to advocate for customers in meetings or when strategic decisions are being made.

#6 Ask for help when you need it

Rather than letting unfinished tasks build up or blaming others when things don’t work out, take the assertive action of asking for help when you need it. This shows that you’re mature enough to face your mistakes, you’re willing to learn and you are respectful of others’ ability to help.

#7  Praise others on their good work

Rather than engaging in watercooler gossip, or whinging about the one team member who doesn’t pull their weight, make it your business to identify the good work of others. Take the focus off yourself by congratulating a team member on a job well done. A private email or pat on the back may be appropriate when you’ve witnessed a well-handled customer or client interaction, or a group email could be sent out congratulating a colleague on finishing a big project.

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When congratulations or thanks are due, you shouldn’t see it as pandering or sucking up, but rather, showing that you appreciate that the hard work of others benefits everyone.


Lauren Sherritt is a playwright and freelance writer based in Brisbane. Lauren’s work has been featured online at Junkee, The Financial Diet, Birdee, LifeMusicMedia, lip magazine and Australian Stage.