The Art of Self-Assertion

If you ask, you shall receive. It sounds simplistic, but it works in all kinds of ways.

If you’d like to make a sale, ask your customer if they’re ready to buy.

If you’d like to work on a new project, ask if you can get involved.

If you want a raise, ask for one.

Asking for what you want is often the quickest way to get it. Self-assertion allows you to take control, be proactive and grow as a person. Instead of seeing a world of limits, you see a world of opportunities. Instead of living small, you live large.

Being assertive is a critical skill, but many people are hesitant to try. If this is something you struggle with, read on for some helpful tips.

Excuses Won’t Get You Anywhere

There are so many excuses that keep us from being assertive. Speaking up can be scary, especially if you are shy. You really don’t want to bother anyone. And you may assume you will just get no for an answer anyway. You would rather not even try. Or you may be so bogged down by the day-to-day grind that you lack the energy to even think about what you really want and how to ask for it.

For many people, it may be much more comfortable to take on the role of the martyr, working away diligently, never asking for more. As long as you keep your head down, work hard, and play nice, you will be showered with rewards from on high, right? Not exactly.

The truth is that other people are busy. They may like you a lot. They may even want to help you, but they can’t read your mind. They aren’t going to sit around brainstorming ways to help you advance your personal goals. If you want to get ahead, you have to make it happen. You have to give yourself a chance.

Be Solution-Oriented

By taking the initiative, you can make important changes in your work environment. Instead of putting up with problems, you offer solutions. You make your job work for you.

This is especially helpful for people who find their jobs to be increasingly boring or unfulfilling. You could get stuck in a rut, become resentful, and start daydreaming about finding a new career, or you could brainstorm ways to expand your current role. Is another department overwhelmed and in need of extra help? Is there a promotion opening up? Could you propose a new project?

It’s important to allow yourself to think outside the box and avoid self-imposed limits. You just might have the perfect answer.

Why It’s Worth It

Just asking for what you want can change your whole working experience. You could get an exciting project that breathes fresh life into your job. You could get a promotion or a raise. You could make new connections, strike up friendships or learn valuable skills.

The best part is that you get empowered in the process. You realize it’s not so scary, after-all. You gain more confidence. You realize that you can make a difference.

It’s Not All About Taking

People tend to confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. But they aren’t the same thing. You don’t have to throw elbows, step on toes, or make a spectacle to get what you want.

It doesn’t have to be a gimmee-gimmee situation. It’s all in your approach. The key is to find a way to meet someone else’s needs at the same time.  Instead of pushing your own agenda, find a way to tie it to someone else’s. That way everyone benefits, and you give others a reason to say yes. With a little imagination, you can create a win-win situation and open the door to new opportunities – for yourself and others.

Get Over Your Fear of Rejection

If you are still hesitant, just start small. Find one thing that could make a real difference to you, and then ask for it. Becoming assertive is like working a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger you become.

If things don’t work out as you hoped, remember that failure is not a sign of weakness. It isn’t a sign that something is wrong with you. Failure just shows your pushing the boundaries.

Failure is not the end of the story. It is the beginning. When something is hard and you are really struggling with it, that is the point when you really begin to grow and learn. Stick with it. Have patience with yourself. Don’t give up.

Michael Jordan once said,

“I failed over and over in my life and that is why I succeed.”

Isn’t that the story of humanity right there? We are never going to be perfect, but if we have courage and determination and confidence, we can succeed.

Popular search terms for this article:

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Sarah Nagel is lucky to live in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. She works as an editor by day and a freelance writer by night. Connect on twitter at


  1. Lindsey Sparks on the 19th August

    My former coworkers would sometimes complain that I was always getting to go to conferences and they weren’t. I would ask them what conferences they had asked to attend and they would always say none. Um, how are you going to get to go if you don’t ask? No matter how great your manager is, no one cares more about your career development that you do. That’s why I would research conferences myself, write up an analysis of why I should attend and how it would benefit the company and the costs. When I get back, I always share my detailed notes with everyone and give a report on what I learned and what I’m going to do with that information. That always led to it being much easier to get approval to go in the future.

  2. Catalina on the 19th August

    Hey everyone,

    I found myself wondering how would failure bring me closer to success. The answer isn’t simple and straight at all. I noticed that having the courage to say “Yes” to a challenge (aka project) already takes you half way through finding a good solution. Realistic self-assertion and determination is what brings you close to the most coveted 99% of work done.


  3. Pablo Valerio on the 19th August

    Amazing article, I was missing somebody talking about this subject here.
    In this economic reality many of us are afraid of rejection, hesitate to ask and just keep pretending everything is fine.
    We are learning to accept the low quality of job satisfaction afraid to lose what we have now.
    We need to make ourselves heard, speak out our goals, ideas and ask for the things we believe we deserve.
    Thanks Sarah for your insight!

  4. naomi on the 19th August

    I love, LOVE this article. Bravo, Sarah!

    It made me think of a topic suggestion:

    How about an article on encouraging people to jump-start their job hunt?
    I have been trying to encourage a family member to apply for positions because she is in desperate need of the cash, but afraid of going back to work because of her last workplace experience. I’ve been cooking up job posting recommendation emails for her over my lunch breaks. I’m trying to find the “inpsiring” middle ground between nodda and pushy.

    This would be a great topic a lot of readers could relate to with Unemployment reaching 500,000 in the U.S. and a lot of job seekers giving up the search.

  5. Brian Landi on the 19th August

    Thanks for the post. You really hit on something here that is so simple yet so overlooked by so many of us. I like the Michael Jordan quote. Another one that I like is “I missed 100% of the shots I never took” – Wayne Gretsky.

    You are right on about other people not spending much time thinking about us. One thing that I try to think about are the times when I am glad that someone followed up with me to sell me something.

    I think as long as we are polite but persistent people will respect us for asking for what we want. Thanks again!

  6. Mario Awad on the 19th August

    Simple, straight to the point, and very inspiring. Thank you.

  7. Lulu on the 20th August

    Great article! Great day to publish it…

    I may finally ask for that raise. Wish me luck… 😛

  8. Ryan Jenkins on the 24th August

    Solid content!

    I agree big time! The problem is, so many people do not know what they want in and out of life. So therefore they do not know how or where to assert themselves.
    I believe it takes some reflection and self evaluation to draw out one’s true desires so that they can self assert successfully and confidently.

    Thanks for the insight!

  9. Ryan Jenkins on the 24th August

    Solid content!

    I agree big time! The problem is, so many people do not know what they want in and out of life. So therefore they do not know how or where to assert themselves.
    I believe it takes some reflection and self evaluation to draw out one’s true desires so that they can self assert successfully and confidently.

    Thx for the insight!

  10. Izunne chinonso on the 2nd November

    This is quite inspiring. When u ask d right questions, u get the right answers.

  11. Mike Vardy on the 15th February

    I’m going to be assertive here myself and thank everyone for reading and commenting! 🙂

  12. tetsuo on the 10th April

    Good article – you wrote about asking for things and I think this is extremely important in building strong self-asserted attitude in a long term. And not many authors write about that..

  13. Muhammad Qaisar on the 11th August

    Truly a comment able article, that can be a very fruitful for one related to any part of business. This writing is the out come of professional experience and keen observation, in fact.

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