By DebbieH 13 Mar 2019 7 min read

How to be more assertive in the workplace

Having the ability to communicate in an assertive manner is a great skill to master for the workplace. Many find it difficult to express their views confidently without feeling overwhelmed or that we’ve crossed a line. Whether you’re applying for a new job, or simply looking to assert your presence at work, being able to communicate assertively could benefit your entire career, whether you’re a legal secretary, paralegal or solicitor. We spoke to The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PA and asked their advice about how to be assertive without being dominating.  

Assertive behaviour is defined as acting self-assured, outspoken and confident without being domineering or offensive. There are three different stances a person can take when interacting with others: passive, aggressive or assertive. Below, is an example of how you might use each stance:


Example scenario:

You’re in a meeting with your superior, who praises a project you’ve recently completed after months of hard work. She also tells you that there is a promotion coming your way.


Here, you might use the following responses:

Passive response (downplaying the achievement): “I didn’t do that much.”

Aggressive response (Being boastful and arrogant): “It’s a good job you chose me for the project, nobody else would have been able to complete it to my standards.”

Assertive response (Allowing for pride in your achievement whilst also being grateful): “Thank you, it’s great to see my hard work is paying off after spending so long on this project.”

Out of the three stances, it’s easy to see which would be the most favourable and advantageous.


We all have the potential to be pushy at any stage of our career – but the key is to be equally courteous and considerate. Emailing to follow up on a job interview, for example, is a practice that many law firms recommend, but some individuals consider this to be overbearing. In fact, many companies actually cite the reason for choosing successful candidates being due to their willingness to follow up post-interview – why? Because in their opinion it shows passion and enthusiasm.

Whatever the situation, you have to be able to assess the situation – this is where emotional intelligence comes in to play. Having the ability to read other people’s emotions and respond in an appropriate manner is essential before choosing your stance.


Be diplomatic

A key point to consider when being assertive is your level of diplomacy. This involves having the ability to listen to others’ needs and opinions and fully consider them before tactfully presenting your own. By recognising the thoughts and feelings of others, you can better understand the situation. This then allows you to process your thoughts about the situation in a more informed manner. Allow others to speak before you, but don’t let your own voice go unheard. Listen actively, and time your responses well. If you can cooperate with others and allow your own vision to be adapted, all involved can work collaboratively to create a more valuable situation.


Manage your emotions

Assertive individuals feel their self-worth and understand the value of making their thoughts and desires heard – they won’t be angry if their confidence is knocked, and they are capable of handling a fall with grace and amicability. If you are an individual whose temper flares up easily, practice self-calming techniques to stop reactions that may cause future damage to your career.

If you feel assertiveness doesn’t come naturally to you, just remember that it is a skill that can be practised and developed over time. Some of the most successful people have also been introverted and shy in the past – but learning how to be assertive at the right time can mean that regardless of your natural character, you can thrive in any situation at work.


The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA) is a professional body who are dedicated to your career every step of the way. Whether you would like to become a Legal Secretary or you would like to advance your Legal Secretary career, they are there to support you through your journey.  For more information please visit our website.