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How to be more assertive at work – top tips from Jenny Garrett

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Ambition recently hosted our popular “People with Ambition” networking event in London, aimed at likeminded professionals looking to develop their careers in Professional Services.

We were delighted to be joined by award-winning coach, author and speaker, Jenny Garrett, for an interactive and highly engaging talk on the topic of assertive communication.

Read on for an overview of Jenny’s key actions you can implement today to be more assertive at work.

Why is it important to be assertive?

Being assertive is a core communication skill.  Using assertiveness means expressing yourself effectively, standing up for what you believe and getting your voice heard whilst also respecting the views of others. It is not about being aggressive, arrogant or being the loudest person in the room.

Assertiveness is key when you want to influence and persuade people. Business meetings, applying for a promotion or establishing yourself as a respected figure in your field all require a certain level of assertiveness.

Assertiveness in meetings

It can sometimes be difficult to get your voice heard in unstructured meetings, especially on occasions when the person with the loudest voice seems to get all the attention.

In these situations, it can often seem easier to just sit back and not say anything rather than battle to get your voice heard over all the noise. However, in failing to speak up, you do yourself a disservice as people may assume you don’t have an opinion or are not engaged in the discussion.

Introverts, in particular, can sometimes struggle to make themselves heard in group situations such as meetings, yet this doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. Jenny suggested that meeting facilitators should ask an introvert their thoughts to encourage them to speak as these people are likely to be sitting back, listening to everything and forming a judgment whilst other people are focusing on speaking.  Jenny also explained that it is still possible to be assertive without having to be an extrovert – silent but strong can be equally as powerful.

How to be more assertive in meetings:

  • Stand up for what you believe, rather than being the facilitator who simply agrees with everyone else.

  • Actively participate in meetings to demonstrate you are engaged and have something to add

  • If you are an introvert, you will need to make a conscious effort to speak up. However, you don’t need to be the loudest person in the room – silent but strong is also effective.

  • Partner with someone who will back you up when you make a point.

  • If an agenda has been sent out and you have an important point to make, speak beforehand to the person chairing the meeting and ask them to bring you in (at point 3 of the agenda, for example).

However, Jenny pointed out that it is important to be mindful of who you are talking toand how what you’re saying will be perceived. A CEO will be able to express their assertiveness in a different way to a junior member of staff.

Physical preparation

Your physical presence is important when you want to be assertive.  Jenny suggests standing “like a tree – deep-rooted to the ground”.

Other tips to prepare yourself physically include:

  • Dress with confidence - whatever that means to you

  • Claim your space

  • If you feel nervous, go somewhere private (like the toilets) and literally ‘shake out’ your adrenaline

  • Walk into the room with confidence

In a meeting situation, think about where you should sit. Where is the energy? Who do you need to be next to?

  • Make sure you address everyone when you speak, not just the person sitting next to/opposite you

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

  • Project your voice – imagine you are talking to the person at the back of the room

  • Lower your voice slightly (to a comfortable level)

  • Practice mindfulness – living in the moment

  • Use positive self-talk

  • Passion wins, but don’t overdo it – manage your emotions

  • Say ‘yes and… (not but)’

Take a step back and look at yourself from an external viewpoint. Ask yourself:

  • What is your area of expertise? Know this and speak up about it.

  • What are your values? Stand up for them.

  • What’s your conversational style? Does this affect others’ perception of you?

  • What difference do you want to make by your presence?

Use PEP 

Make your point, explain it 3 times then make your point again

Use Muscular Language

Instead of saying: “How about?”  Say "I strongly suggest"

  • "I tend to agree" – "That’s absolutely right"

  • "I think maybe…" - "My strong advice is"

  • "I agree" – "I completely agree because"

  • "What if?" - "I recommend"

  • "Maybe we can…" - "Here is my plan"

How to be assertive - in summary

  • Establish yourself as an authority and talk about your subject

  • Lower your voice and project it

  • Develop your own style

  • Take up opportunities to speak, challenge yourself

  • Use PEP and muscular language

  • Ask for help from  a colleague or mentor you admire

This was a fantastic evening and we would like to thank everyone who attended the event with us.

For more tips and coaching advice from Jenny Garrett, visit:

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