Is Your Lack of Assertiveness Causing You Stress and Frustration?

When I was about 8 years old, my parents took my brother and me to the Shriner’s Circus. Before the show began we were each given a program. In it was a section where there was a picture of each clown and his or her name. The kids were encouraged to meet the clowns and get their autographs. I wanted the clowns’ autographs, but I was too shy to go up to them and ask. My 5 year old brother was brave and he got the clowns to sign his program and mine too. What a great brother, right?

Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I get up the courage to ask a boy on a date. A few years later, I married that boy.

You see, oftentimes something great happens when we assert ourselves and ask for what we want.

As admins, we generally want to be thought of as pleasant and helpful. We certainly want our clients and vendors to think of us this way. And it’s nice if our teammates view us this way too.

But there’s a difference between being pleasant and helpful and just being a doormat.

Are you the admin who says yes to everything that is asked of you? Even it causes you stress or frustration? Even if there is no more room left in your day to fit one more thing in?

How do you communicate your needs without coming across as aggressive?

I’m reading a book by Joan Burge called Underneath It All: Postgraduate Level Revelations Lift Administrative Assistants to New Heights. In it, she says, “Develop a diplomatically assertive attitude. Aggressive people only care about themselves and their needs. Passive people only care about others and what they think. Assertive people care about their own needs and getting the job done while caring about others.”

So how do you go about developing this diplomatically assertive attitude?

I have to admit that when I first started as an executive assistant, I would say yes to whatever was asked of me because I didn’t know what to say no to. Essentially, I was an order-taker. I didn’t know what needed to be done, and I didn’t have the confidence to ask. I didn’t know about being assertive so I felt a little out of control. Saying yes to everything was essentially letting the people around me control my day.

It wasn’t until I got more comfortable and confident in my position that I was able to set boundaries.

You’ve probably heard this before…we teach people how to treat us.

If your sales team knows you will clean up their contracts why should they bother writing them correctly in the first place?

If you’ve answered your phone for a client at 8:00 at night one time, they will expect you to answer all their evening calls.

Here are a few tips to help you along your path to becoming diplomatically assertive:

  • Let others know your stance with “I” statements. You don’t want to come off as accusatory since that puts people on the defensive. For instance, say, “I really need your help. Your sales are up and you are turning in a lot of contracts to me. Often those contracts contain errors that take up a lot of my time to fix, and I feel like I’m falling behind in my customer service to your clients because I’m spending so much time on these errors. What can we do to make sure these contracts are clean?” This is a much more diplomatic approach rather than saying, “Your contracts are a mess and it takes me forever to fix them. Do you think you could do something about that?”
  • It’s ok to say no. We have lots of demands on our time. And if you are not on the phone or in a meeting, it can feel like you are being mean if you don’t help your teammates when they come to you for help or information. However, you have the right to uninterrupted time to work. It’s perfectly ok to say, “No, I can’t do that right now.” Just be direct; no hesitation. If it’s appropriate, ask if it can wait until a later time when you know you can devote the attention it deserves.
  • Be open. Assertiveness is not about getting what you want. It’s about opening the communication door. It should be a win-win for both of you. You are free to ask for what you need or express how you feel, and you are open to listening to the same from the other person.
  • Speak up in groups. Don’t wait to be asked for your opinion. Often, the most assertive people in a group are the ones who are heard. But your opinion matters too. Fact is, you may have a better idea than anyone else. But no one will ever benefit from your ideas if you don’t assert them. Just lean forward, deepen your voice a little, raise the volume a little, and say, “I think we should…”
  • Stop apologizing. Does this sound like you, “I’m sorry, but could we move our meeting to this afternoon?” Instead, say, “Something came up so I moved our meeting to this afternoon. I already updated your calendar.” The only time you should say, “I’m sorry,” is when you’ve wronged others. There’s nothing wrong with changing a meeting time or asking for what you need.
  • Do it now. If it’s important to you, don’t delay. You don’t need to wait for a break in the conversation in group meetings to speak up. You don’t need to wait until you’ve had enough time to think about it. “Fortune favors the bold.” To be bold means to be assertive. Do it now.

Remember, “Assertive people care about their own needs and getting the job done while caring about others.”

Signature clear2

Where do you struggle when it comes to being assertive? Comment below or send me an email: I’m happy to discuss!



  1. Mary Angela

    I totally agree with you on this. Being assertive in today’s world is really important otherwise, nothing gets done. Most people assume being assertive means being rude, and it is totally NOT the case. It is always good to speak your mind. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pingback: What Do the Most Talented Executive Assistants Have in Common? | The Assistant Files by Elizabeth Gilbert

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *