Assertive behaviour is key when it comes to pursuing your goals and meeting objectives in the workplace. Unlike other forms of communication, it’s considered a healthy and diplomatic way of expressing yourself and one that can boost your career.

Not only can it help to earn others’ respect by showing colleagues that you stand up for the values that are important to you, but it’s a way of making you appear confident and able to set clear professional boundaries within the workplace. It’s also an essential tool within management and leadership, helping you deal with difficult or challenging behaviour from those who work within your team. Ultimately, being assertive can help you behave more professionally and has even been proven to help you perform better within your role.

Whether you’ve found yourself too quick to say yes to everything in the office (an example of passive behaviour), recognise that you use intimidation as means of getting others to agree with you (aggressive behaviour) or avoid direct conflict but employ sarcasm to express your annoyance (passive-aggressive behaviour), there are plenty of ways that you can improve your communication skills at work.

What does it mean to be assertive and why is it so important?

Assertive behaviour is one of your greatest tools at work and at home. Learning how the way you express yourself impacts others is a fundamental part of being a successful communicator. In fact, being assertive in the way you use your tone of voice, body language and choice of words can transform the way others respond to you - and have a huge impact on the success of your working and personal relationships, too.

But what exactly is assertive behaviour? Ultimately, it’s a way of articulating your feelings in a calm and positive way so that they are listened to, respected and appreciated by others.

Saying no, and explaining why, is also a crucial feature of this style of communication and can be one of the most powerful things you do in the workplace. Being assertive in your delivery can help you to establish those all-important work boundaries, stopping you from feeling stressed, undervalued or angry.

Passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviours

Before becoming skilled in using assertive behaviour, it’s important to recognise the other communication styles at your disposal. While they can be easy to slip into, they can prove damaging to the relationships you’ve built with those around you.

One of the most common types of behaviour if you tend to shy away from confrontation is passive behaviour. This is when you’re submissive and quick to back down in a disagreement, opting to say yes or agree to another's point of view rather than push your own. While this might seem like a good strategy for maintaining positive working relationships with your colleagues, being passive can actually cause you to feel resentment. Not standing up for your own opinions can make them seem less valid - and they’ll be ignored and discarded as a result.

On the other end of the spectrum is aggressive behaviour. This often takes the form of using anger and intimidation to assert control - which can come across as bullying, particularly as humiliation tactics or even appearing physically aggressive are often used to convey your point of view. Aggressive behaviour can damage and completely destroy relationships, as it shows that you’re not interested in others’ perspectives and can lead to a complete loss of respect. As a result, you probably won’t get your way, anyway.

The final form of communication is passive aggressive behaviour. Rather than being direct and straightforward about how you feel, if you’re passive aggressive, you might outwardly agree with a request, but use indirect resistance - such as refusing to complete tasks - to prevent it from being completed. Passive-aggressive people are often sarcastic and hostile, too and this can poison relationships; the lack of honesty - and the lack of respect this implies - prevents respectful interactions.

Assertive communication you should use in the workplace

As we’ve shown, being assertive isn’t just beneficial to your working relationships but can ensure that you feel listened to, valued and respected at work. While we’ve written about books about assertiveness that you can read, when it comes to improving your communication skills, concrete examples are often the most powerful way of changing your behaviour.

Using your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language

So, to help you be more assertive in your day-to-day interactions at work, we’ve put this list of how different examples of body language, word choice and tone of voice can be adopted to make you more assertive.

We’ve also shown how you can adapt your behaviour in common scenarios at work to communicate better and feel more positive about the outcomes of these interactions.

So how can you use your voice, facial expression and body language to be more assertive?


Assertive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour

Passive aggressive behaviour

Passive behaviour











Negative tone





Nervous laughter


Comfortable Direct eye contact

Firm but kind expression

Appropriate smiling

Threatening eye contact

Little smiling

Clenched teeth

Eye rolling

Fake smiling

Avoids eye contact

Inappropriate exaggerated smiling

Body language




Calm hand gestures

Respect for personal space

Arms folded


Invades others space

Pointing/pounding fist


Nervous fidgeting

Slumped shoulders

Common workplace scenarios and how to be more assertive in them

Now you’ve learned how powerful your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language can be in asserting yourself, how can you put this new learning into practice? We’ve put together six common workplace scenarios, with guidance on what assertive behaviour looks like - and how to avoid slipping into aggressive, passive-aggressive or passive behaviour instead.

Use these guidelines to help you prepare for your next work meeting or just general interactions with your colleagues and, after a bit of practice, you’ll soon find that assertiveness comes naturally.

Example scenario

Assertive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour

Passive aggressive behaviour

Passive behaviour

In a meeting

Expresses their opinion Open body language

Speaks directly

Says things like: I’d like to offer my opinion based on my experience of dealing with similar issues

Talks over others

Intimidating body language

Controlling behaviour

Doesn't consider others

Talks in a meeting but withholds vital information

Defensive body language

Picks on others' mistakes

Deflects decision making to others

Rarely or never speaks

Evasive body language

Agrees with all decisions

General conversation

Makes eye contact with others

Mirrors expressions

Diffuses negativity

Says things like: I completely understand what you’re saying but I have to disagree, let me explain why.

Stares at others intimidatingly

Aggressive body language

Quick to anger

Makes trivial complaints


Avoids eye contact or confrontation

Achieving goals/objectives

Takes pride in oneself and the team

Says things like: I think we’ve really excelled in meeting these targets and we’re ready to move onto delivering the next

Takes pride in self only

Only takes pride when the decision was influenced by them

Doesn't take pride in themselves


Takes accountability for own mistakes and others

Says things like: Yes you’re right, I don’t always listen as closely as I should do when I’m busy and I realise that has contributed to the confusion here.

Hurts others to avoid being hurt

Deflects blame onto others

Hurts self to avoid hurting others

Project management

Usually reaches goals without alienating others

Says things like: It was challenging but rewarding to lead this project and I’m really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve together.

Is never accountable for their mistakes

Is only accountable if they can't shift blame

Always feels like everything is their fault

Management of others

Makes sure everyone is on board with a decision

Says things like: Does anyone have any questions or concerns about the [decision/plan]?

Takes a “my way or the highway” approach to decision making

Reluctantly agrees but will be negative about the decision

Agrees with everyone to ensure everyone is happy

Now that you're armed with this information, you can take it out into the world and start to understand your own behaviour and how to adjust it to become more assertive in your daily decisions.

Share this page