Assertive in English

How to be assertive in English​

by Elisa. Updated Feb 11th

Improve your business English communication skills. Learn how you can be assertive in English without being rude!

What does being assertive mean exactly? Good question, right? Especially when we are speaking about assertiveness in a foreign language!

Assertiveness: the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.

Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? But is it really? I myself faced this struggle around 9 years ago when I arrived in Italy. Despite speaking Italian, I had no confidence or self-esteem and when liaising with my new boss or even quite simply my new landlord, I just couldn’t manage to be assertive.

Then, through teaching, I learned how to change the language I was using and how to be more confident. And here I am 9 years later and I want to help all you English learners out there when it comes to being assertive in this beautiful, yet complex, English language 😉

Here is what I have learned: being assertive can reduce daily stress. It can help you deal with negative emotions you may have in uncomfortable and stressful situations.

Can you imagine being able to express yourself and thoughts more EFFECTIVELY?

Therefore, being able to say ‘NO’ to people (in a polite, but firm way) …

Let’s look at the difference between assertiveness and aggressive behaviour;

Assertiveness means balance:

It requires you to be direct about your wants and needs while still considering the rights, needs and wants of others. When being assertive, you are confident and powerful in getting your point across without acting like a bully or seeming pushy.

Aggressive behaviour means winning:

You do what is in your own best interest with no concern towards the needs, rights, desires or feelings of others. When you are aggressive you are using power in a selfish manner.

Now let’s get to the practical part …

Here are a few tips and ideas to help you become more assertive in English:

1. Forget using modal verbs and change you word choice​

If you’ve read our post: How to speak polite and diplomatic English, you will know that modal verbs are perfect when trying to be polite or diplomatic.  However they will not help you when trying to be assertive

When you want to be assertive, try avoiding words like; CouldWouldMight and Should

Why not try using “Will” instead?!

For example:

  • will be going on holiday next month, so I’ll need someone to cover me.
  • Will you get that back to me by the end of the week?

Try also using the word want instead of need;

  • want to go on this training course because I believe that it will help me to progress in my role and my career.

2. Use “I” statements. This gets your point across assertively​

  • I believe
  • I want
  • I feel
  • I need
  • I’m more than sure
  • I’m certain
  • I will

Example: “I’m more than sure I’m the right person for the promotion”.

3. Avoid certain words that can undermine you​

  • Sorry – The word sorry should be used in situations where you really want to apologise. It is a way to be polite, but it is often overused when we are not confident and sure of ourselves.

Example: “I’m sorry to bother you but can I have your report by this evening.” 

This tells the other person you are not confident and gives them power.  

Try saying: “I need your report by this evening.”

  • Guess – The word “guess” makes the person you are speaking to think that you don’t quite believe what you are saying or that you are rather uncertain.

Example: “I guess what I’m saying is I don’t really want to work weekends.”

In this example your employer may see you as a weak target and try to convince you or even worse tell you why you have to or should work weekends. 

Why not try saying “I can’t work weekends anymore” or “I want my weekends to myself, so I’m sorry I won’t be working weekends anymore.”

  • Just – When you start by saying “I just..” the person you are talking to could think that what you have to say is really not that important.

Example: “I just wanted to ask you if I could have a word with you about something.” 

Try saying “I need to have a word with you about something.”

4. Stick to your guns!​​

The most important thing to remember is to stick to your guns -this means refuse to compromise or change, despite criticism.

Don’t let pushy people make you back down. (Pushy people are people who are excessively or unpleasantly self-assertive or ambitious. And to back down means to surrender or reconsider) 

So, in other words, don’t let people make you doubt yourself. If someone insists you should keep repeating what you want, believe, will and won’t do.

Before I leave you, here’s a quote about assertiveness which we can all aspire to;

“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.” 

― Edith Eva Eger

How to be assertive

Recap: how to be assertive in English

  • There is a time and place for polite and diplomatic English. However, sometimes you need to be assertive and use assertive language. 
  • You can be assertive without being rude.
  • Be aware of the difference between being assertive and being aggressive

We hope you have found this lesson useful. Please share the love!

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