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How to Be More Assertive (Without Being a Jerk)

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I’ve never been an overly assertive person and it has sometimes hindered me in my life. There were so many times when I was sabotaging myself – in my career, in my marriage, and with my kids.

People often equate assertiveness with being harsh or overbearing, especially in a woman, but it doesn’t have to mean that. There are many times in life when you should be more assertive. By being more assertive, you’ll be able to achieve so much more in your life (and, if you do it correctly, you won’t have to compromise your values to get there).

How to Be More Assertive In Your Career, Marriage, and With Your Kids


Statistically, men are much more likely to be assertive in their careers than women. Time and time again, men ask for (and get) raises, promotions, job offers, better clients, etc., simply because they ask. Your boss isn’t a mind reader. If you don’t make your desires known, you’ll never get what you want in life.

Negotiating pay

If you feel like you’re earning less than you should be, you need to ask for more! After I worked for one employer for a year, I asked for (and received) a 27% raise.

The easiest way to negotiate your pay is to arm yourself with information.

  • Research comparable salaries in your area. Check out websites like to find out what the median salary is for someone in your position with your education and experience level.
  • Contact HR if your employer uses salary bands and determine where your salary falls in the band. If it’s at the low end of the band, you’ll be more likely to get a raise than if your salary is at the high end of the salary band.
  • Do a self-assessment. Review your goals for the previous year, as well as your goals for the current year. How did you do? Are you bringing the company value (new clients, positive reviews, praise for your accomplishments)? Have you suggested improvements or implemented new policies or procedures to help your organization? If you previously had negative feedback, did you make changes to improve?

If the company believes that you’re a valuable employee, they’ll be much more likely to agree with your salary adjustment. When you ask for your raise (or promotion), calmly explain your worth and give examples.

If your employer says no, don’t be afraid to ask why. Use those reasons as suggestions to improve, and ask again the following quarter or year.

Discussing a review

While you may feel like calling your boss an incompetent jerk after a negative review, that’s probably not going to get you far in your current job. If your boss (or a client) gives you negative feedback, you’ll need to do the following things.

  • Keep a level head. My first reaction after bad news is always to cry or get so angry that I end up crying, but that doesn’t accomplish anything (other than making you look like an emotional wreck). As difficult as it may be, try to keep your emotions under control. Take an early lunch or a quick break to go for a walk, go for a drive, or even hide in the bathroom for a few minutes until you calm down. If that’s not possible, take a deep breath and count to ten in your head. Try to think happy thoughts, as cheesy as that sounds.
  • Analyze the review. Try to see it from a different perspective. Was it justified? Was there a way that you could’ve improved? If it was someone else’s fault, how could you have managed the situation differently? For example, as a former project manager, my bad reviews were always because the mail was late, there was a problem with a data conversion, or a customer service agent was rude to a caller. Even so, I needed to take ownership of the problem. It was my role to look at the problem and determine how to change it for the future. Could I provide the employees with an alternative to mailing their information? Should I give the clients a more detailed description of the data requirements? Did I need to provide the customer service agents with more training?
  • Apologize, even if you disagree with the review. Explain how you’ve created an action plan to fix the situation and prevent it from happening again. If you can, provide statistics, both on the current problem and how your resolution will improve those numbers.

By removing the emotions from a negative review, you’ll send the message that you’re competent and reasonable. As you’re discussing your action plan, you’ll be able to show that, even if the review wasn’t your fault, you’re willing to be a team player and help the organization. In doing so, you’ll assert your value to the company without being aggressive or feeling like a doormat.


Marriage is a team effort, but sometimes, especially if one person is more passionate about an issue than the other, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been plowed over with a steam-roller. While I don’t suggest giving up or getting into a screaming match (I’ve tried both, and let me tell you that neither method works), you need to make sure that your needs are met and your voice is heard.

When trying to be assertive in your relationship, it’s not so much about trying to be heard as it is about trying to compromise.

  • Try taking a step back to see the overall picture. Try to view your argument objectively.
  • Listen to your spouse’s arguments. Are they valid (even if they aren’t, don’t be too quick to point the finger)? Is there anything that you agree with or could compromise on?
  • Be respectful. Even if you totally disagree, try to explain your opinion in a calm, non-judgemental tone.

Although I firmly believe that it’s important to have a unified discipline strategy, there are other things in a marriage that you may need to agree to disagree. My husband and I rarely agree on politics, so we always joke that our votes cancel each other out. We still discuss our views, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not worth an argument.


I’m one of those moms who disciplines with a questioning tone. For example, when I want my kids to stop jumping off the couch, I’ll say, “Kids? You know you’re not supposed to jump off the furniture?” Then, they smile sweetly at me and stop for two minutes, only to return to jumping off the furniture once I’ve turned my back.

Not only is this an ineffective way to get my point across, but the kids quickly learn that I don’t mean business.

While I don’t want to resort to yelling, sweetly questioning their intentions doesn’t cut it. To assert your role as a parent, you don’t need to yell, but you do need to make your intentions clear.

  • Change your tone. My mom, a retired elementary teacher, worked with me on this. You don’t need to raise your voice, but a calm “I mean business” tone can make a huge difference.
  • Have a set of clear rules (and be consistent when enforcing them). If it’s ok to use the couch as a trampoline when Mommy is on the phone, but it’s not ok when she’s making dinner, kids will get confused.
  • Take a deep breath. If you’re having a bad day, your kids will know. If you’re feeling like a failure as a parent, relax. We’ve all been there. But make sure you’re able to recover from your parenting failures.

Being assertive is more about expressing yourself so that others understand your needs without pointing fingers or having hurt feelings. Keeping a level head when asking for what you want (or deflecting blame) is never easy, but it’s important to be assertive in your career, marriage, and parenting so that you feel confident in your role as a woman.

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Wednesday 4th of May 2016

Assertiveness is something I've always struggled with too. It's probably let me down in a few areas, and with the kids I often go from being not strong enough to yelling. Tone of voice is a huge thing for getting your point across.

Alison Lange

Wednesday 4th of May 2016

Yes, when I'm not conscious of it, I'm like you and go from being too soft to yelling. Mastering the tone of any conversation has helped!


Monday 2nd of May 2016

Hard at first to differentiate between assertive and aggressive but with time it comes!

Alison Lange

Monday 2nd of May 2016

Yes, and it's hard when you're not meaning to come across as aggressive but people perceive it that way. I find it's such a fine line (especially with women). I just kept thinking that I could never say some of the things my husband would advise me to say in the business world, but it works for him!