Developing assertiveness in the workplace doesn’t refer to a harsh and abrasive personality, but rather, it’s a way to convey what you’re thinking in a positive and healthy manner. However, there is a fine line between aggressive and assertive, and it’s a line you don’t want to cross. What does assertiveness mean to you? Here are five ways to help define the meaning of assertiveness so you can begin to develop it in the workplace.

The Five Communication Styles

  • Assertive. Assertive communication is the healthiest and most effective style of communication. When we are assertive, we know our limits and don't allow ourselves to be pushed beyond them just because someone else wants or needs something from us.

  • Aggressive. An aggressive person behaves as if their needs are the most important, as though they have more rights and have more to contribute than other people. It is an ineffective communication style.

  • Passive-aggressive. This is a style in which people appear passive on the surface, but are actually acting out their anger in their heads or behind the scenes. People who behave in this manner usually feel powerless and resentful, and express their feelings by subtly undermining the object of their resentments.

  • Submissive. This style is about pleasing other people and avoiding conflict. A submissive person behaves as if others' needs are more important, and other people have more rights and more to contribute.

  • Manipulative. This style is scheming, calculating and shrewd. Manipulative communicators are skilled at influencing or controlling others to their own advantage. Their spoken words hide an underlying message, of which the other person may be totally unaware.

The Difference Between Aggressive and Assertive

These two can become easily confused, but they are actually much different. Assertiveness must remain balanced. It requires being honest and upfront about your wants and needs while still considering the wants and needs of other people too. When you are assertive, it means asking for what you want in a positive manner.


Aggressive behavior is based on winning. It means that you do what is in your own best interest without considering others’ rights, needs or feelings. When you are aggressive, you take what you want no matter the circumstances.

1. Identify Your Needs and Ask For Them

A passive person will wait for the right opportunity to bring up needs, or they will wait until someone notices their needs. By waiting for this, you may be waiting forever. You must understand that in order to perform to your full potential, your basic needs must be met. When we display assertiveness, we have the confidence to ask for what we need without resorting to games or manipulation.

2. Acknowledge That People Are Responsible For Their Own Behavior

Don't make the mistake of accepting responsibility for how people react to your assertive statements; you can only control yourself. As long as you are being respectful and not violating someone else's needs, then you have the right to say what you need to.

3. Express Negative Feelings in a Healthy Way

Everyone gets angered here and there, and that’s okay, but you must express your feelings in a positive way that doesn’t hurt anyone else. This means talking about how you feel in a mature and respectful manner. However, it’s good to stand up for yourself and your rights.

4. Receive Criticism Positively

Accept feedback positively and don’t become defensive or angry. This shows maturity, and when it’s your turn to give criticism, you will want the same in return.

5. Learn to Say “No”

Being a “yes” person isn’t always a good thing. It can even set you up to fail. Learn your limits and what you feel comfortable with so you don’t ever feel taken advantage of. You will never be able to please everyone, so it’s okay to say no. For a win-win alternative, suggest something that would be better for the both of you so you aren’t technically saying no.


By being assertive in the workplace, you can set yourself up to have a healthy work experience. Everyone has wants and needs, and by laying these out in a healthy manner, you will feel good about yourself and other people.