Here’s how to be assertive without being bossy

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One of my favourite memes is of a little girl who has a boy pinned against a fence with the caption, “I’m not bossy, I just have strong leadership skills”. So how can you be assertive without being perceived as bossy or aggressive?

Being assertive is an interpersonal skill that demonstrates a healthy self-confidence. It  enables us to stand up for ourselves and our rights.

By being direct and honest with people, by speaking up when something is bothering us, we will benefit from:

  • improved relationships because we have shared our needs
  • less stress and resentment by being able to say no to unreasonable demands
  • increased confidence by being in control of our own decisions.

Assertiveness allows us to confidently question the financial and lifestyle advice we receive, especially as we head into retirement. Difficult conversations can cause stress, which is exactly why we try to avoid such interactions in the first place.

If you feel you are inclined to be a little passive and would benefit from becoming more assertive, the following tips may help.

Start small.

Begin in a low-risk situation such as a discussion about which movie to see with a friend. If you typically defer to your friend’s suggestion, take the initiative and say what you would prefer to see.

Say no more often.

If you find yourself shuffling appointments around in your schedule to fit in with other people’s requests for your time, try offering a firm no. There is no need to justify yourself, apologise or feel guilty, a polite “sorry but I’m not free” will suffice.

Use ‘I’ statements.

Aggressive language such as “you never” or “you always” won’t help you get what you need or want. Statements that include ‘I’ in them such as ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’ will be more successful.

Be simple and direct.

There is no need to offer long-winded explanations for what you are asking for.

Stay cool.

Try not to become defensive if someone disapproves or disagrees with you. Breathe normally, speak in a normal, relaxed voice while looking the person you are dealing with in the eye.

Actively listen.

Don’t interrupt the other person’s explanation and try to understand their point of view. Agree to disagree if you have a different point of view.

Be honest.

Tell others how you feel or what you want without making them or yourself feel guilty.

Here are some questions you may want to consider before choosing to be assertive. They can be found in the book, Your Perfect Right, by Dr Robert Alberti and Michael Emmons.

  • How much does it matter to you?
  • Are you looking for a specific outcome or just to express yourself?
  • Are you looking for a positive outcome? Might asserting yourself make things worse?
  • Will you kick yourself if you don’t take action?
  • What are the probable consequences and realistic risks from your possible assertion?

What strategies do you use when standing up for your rights? Do you analyse your own behaviour and wish you’d either said something or said nothing?

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Written by Andrea


Total Comments: 16
  1. 0

    Me too?
    About time the growing number of princesses waiting in the shadows to nobble men were put back into their boxes. We are living through a total witch hunt reminiscent of 5 years olds in the schoolyard. I can’t believe grown women can keep coming out alleging abuse. The latest is ex ABC CEO Michelle Guthrie who is complaining that the ex chairman molested her.
    I’d like to see severe penalties for women who attack men with frivolous allegations or allegations stretching back decades. Men need some legal protections against these opportunistic creatures seeking attention and money.

    • 0

      I agree with you on this Mick. To bring up something that happened (or did not happen) years ago is ludicrous. I am not saying that sexual harassment does not happen but it is best dealt with at the time. Unfortunately once the allegation has been made (whether true or not) the damage is done and the man is always tainted by the accusations.

    • 0

      Women these days know how to say ‘bugger off’ and they should if a man does something wrong.
      It is not even years ago but rather decades ago with no police report which really gets up my nose or anything minor which is normal interaction between men and women.
      But maybe I am too old……

    • 0

      Now MICK don’t exaggerate. Ms Guthrie has NOT claimed that the ex Chairman ‘molested ‘ her at all. She has claimed he was ‘inappropriate’ and it made her feel ‘icky’! What did he do exactly? She claims he touched her back (once) during an ABC Board diner!

      OMG!! if I only had a dollar for every time someone touched my back ‘inappropriately’ from colleagues to public transport commuters!

      But I do agree: sucks to be male these days.

    • 0

      I find it hard to understand that a woman of her standing and position was not able to say “I prefer that you did not do that” at the time instead of bringing it up well after the event on TV. That would have been the end of it and if not then take some action.

    • 0

      Go back a few years and remember that women would just be laughed at if they complained about a bloke putting his hand up her skirt. She’d be told, “Can’t you take a joke?” or “You’re a frigid bitch.” Old sins have long shadows and women are now getting the acknowledgement of wrongs that they couldn’t get then because a lot of men thought they had a right to grope women.

    • 0

      Yes, MICK, the pendulum has swung too far, and it is time Men’s groups took up the issues of victimisation by women making false allegations which destroy men’s image and happiness. There is clearly a need for authorities to review the current broken systems.

      Triss: Can’t understand what the hell you are saying – never heard of such behaviours even in the more free past – unless you had some specific, personal issues caused by specific, extreme men. Don’t generalise.

  2. 0

    I think the little girl in the school ground had it right.We knew exactly where she stood.
    Assertiveness is just a cleverer way of demanding your own way.
    There is a pecking order in our society and I think we are born with alpha or beta personalities. Often a beta personality may be in an alpha role and they frequently make very good leaders as they have compassion, understanding and a sense of fairness.
    Alpha personalities on the other hand are there to win. Assertive, cunning, sly, false charm, bullying, bribing are just other strings to their bow.
    If a person isn’t sharing the load then assertiveness is bossiness pure and simple.
    Leadership is the ability to delegate as a part of a team and have others want to be part of the team – as equals – just doing different tasks.

    • 0

      Even non assertive women can politely say they do not like what is happening and to please stop. You can’t absolve them of this, especially if down the track they find reason to complain. This is totally unfair and was shown in the MeToo movement fabricated in some cases for a starter.

    • 0

      Try being a female and saying that, Mick, and see where it gets you. No, I wouldn’t class myself as a feminist I acknowledge that most men are normal but there is the percentage that isn’t.

    • 0

      Sure Triss but most women these days have quite a lot to say to anyone who looks sideways at them and the mouth on some defies all logic.
      I’d say most women know how to say no.

    • 0

      True, but there is a percentage of men who believe that “no” means “yes”.
      I have to agree with you that with some women the pendulum seems to have swung too far and they’re just plain bad mannered. I can accept assertiveness but not when it’s an excuse for bad manners.

  3. 0

    NO ! I will not read the book and will not engage in this conversation
    That’s final !

  4. 0

    A male being assertive with a woman is 100% guaranteed to be accused of being bossy. But a woman can boss a man around with impunity.

  5. 0

    So when someone tells me to – “suck it up princess”, how should I determine whether that person is being assertive or bossy ? A lot depends on the particular situation, who issued the directive and how we react or respond will be tempered accordingly…by how well dressed the circumstance finds us! And which one’s cracking the whip – ouch, that hurts, but do it again and again…..



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