Why Assertive Communication is Essential in the Workplace

Why Assertive Communication is Essential in the Workplace

We’ve all been there.

You’re in a meeting, and the discussion is heating up.

You have a brilliant idea that could solve the problem at hand, but instead of speaking up, you stay silent. Or maybe you do speak up, but your voice comes out as a timid whisper, or worse, you end up bulldozing over everyone with your opinion.

These scenarios highlight the extremes of communication styles—passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive—and the impact they can have on workplace dynamics.

Let’s dive into why assertive communication is the sweet spot that leads to healthier interactions and more productive outcomes.

Understanding Different Communication Styles  Assertive communication

Before we delve into assertive communication, it’s crucial to understand what it’s NOT. Here are examples of passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communication styles and why they are unhealthy and unproductive.

Passive Communication

Passive communicators often avoid expressing their thoughts, feelings, or needs. They might agree to things they don’t want to do or stay silent to avoid conflict.

Example: Imagine Sarah, who is overwhelmed with her workload. When her manager asks if she can take on another project, she nods quietly, even though she knows she can’t handle it. She ends up stressed, the project suffers, and her resentment builds.

Why It’s Unhealthy: This style leads to unexpressed feelings, unmet needs, and internal frustration. Over time, it can cause burnout and low self-esteem.

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communicators express their needs and opinions in a way that violates the rights of others. They might be loud, bossy, or use intimidation to get their way.

Example: Picture Tom, who is frustrated that a team member missed a deadline. He storms into the office, raises his voice, and berates the colleague in front of everyone. The result? The team feels demoralised, and the colleague is more stressed and less productive.

Why It’s Unhealthy: This style creates a hostile environment, damages relationships, and can lead to high staff turnover and low morale.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

Passive-aggressive communicators express their feelings in indirect ways. They might agree to do something but then deliberately perform it poorly or make snide remarks.

Example: Consider Alex, who is annoyed about being assigned extra work. Instead of discussing it with the manager, Alex mutters under his breath and misses the deadline intentionally.

Why It’s Unhealthy: This style breeds mistrust, confusion, and resentment. It can sabotage team efforts and create a toxic workplace atmosphere.


The Beauty of Assertive Communication

Assertive communication, on the other hand, is the gold standard.

It involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and respectfully, while also considering the needs and rights of others. It’s about being honest and direct without being rude or aggressive.

Example: Imagine Emma, who is also overwhelmed with work. When asked to take on another project, she politely but firmly explains her current workload and suggests a timeline that works for her. The manager appreciates her honesty and reallocates the project.

Why It’s Healthy and Productive: Assertive communication leads to clear expectations, mutual respect, and better problem-solving. It fosters a positive and collaborative work environment.


5 Top Tips for Being More Assertive at Work

  1. Use “I” Statements – Frame your thoughts and feelings from your perspective. Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try, “I feel unheard when my suggestions are overlooked.” This reduces defensiveness and opens up dialogue.
  2. Practice Active Listening – Being assertive isn’t just about speaking up; it’s also about listening. Show that you value others’ input by listening attentively and responding thoughtfully.
  3. Maintain Open Body Language – Your body language can reinforce your words. Stand tall, maintain eye contact, and use open gestures. This shows confidence and encourages open communication (for more ideas on Body Language, click here to read my article on body language in the workplace)
  4. Set Clear Boundaries – Be clear about what you can and cannot do. If you’re swamped with work, it’s okay to say no to additional tasks or to negotiate deadlines that are realistic (click here for a great article on Healthy Boundaries)
  5. Stay Calm and Composed – Keep your emotions in check, especially in heated situations. Take deep breaths and stay calm to ensure your message is delivered clearly and respectfully.


Encouraging Co-Workers to Be More Assertive

Lead by Example – Demonstrate assertive communication in your interactions. Your colleagues are more likely to follow suit when they see the positive outcomes.

Create a Safe Space – Encourage open and honest communication by fostering a non-judgmental environment. Let your team know that their voices are valued and respected.

Provide Training – Offer workshops or training sessions on assertive communication (click here to check out the Peace Under Pressure program!). This can help team members develop the skills and confidence they need to express themselves effectively.

Recognise and Reward – Acknowledge and reward assertive behaviour. Positive reinforcement can motivate others to adopt similar communication styles.

Encourage Feedback – Create opportunities for team members to give and receive constructive feedback. This helps build a culture of openness and continuous improvement.


The 3 Key Benefits of Assertive Communication

1. Improved Team Effectiveness

Assertive communication leads to clear and open dialogue, which improves understanding and reduces misunderstandings. Teams that communicate assertively can collaborate more effectively and make better decisions.

2. Enhanced Job Satisfaction

When employees feel heard and respected, their job satisfaction increases. They are more likely to feel valued and engaged, leading to higher morale and reduced turnover.

3. Greater Business Success

Companies with assertive communicators can navigate challenges more efficiently. Clear communication helps in setting realistic goals, aligning team efforts, and achieving business objectives.


Assertive communication is the key to fostering a healthy, productive, and positive workplace.

By expressing ourselves clearly and respectfully, we can build stronger relationships, improve teamwork, and drive business success.

So, the next time you find yourself in a tricky situation at work, remember to be assertive—your team (and your sanity) will thank you for it.

Carley Nicholson
[email protected]