3 Phrases Managers Need To Become More Assertive

assertive management

For managers to be successful, their team members need to respect them and follow them. For this to occur you will need to be assertive. You have to get the work done through your team and at the same time ensure that your team has good morale and that they remain motivated. 

It’s often difficult for leaders to find their place in a department as they don’t want to be seen as a micromanager, but also don’t want to be seen as a pushover.

A good leader is one that is assertive, yet fair but many simply do not know how to be assertive with their teams.

Let’s first take a look at 3 key assertive phrases that you can use and then we’ll take a detailed look at how you can say no to others as well – a very common issue amongst managers who need to be more assertive.

Assertiveness Phrases To Use

“This is a priority.”

Delegating is not an easy skill and one that is not natural for everyone.

Some managers find that it’s very difficult to assign tasks to their staff and emphasise how important they are.

It’s not uncommon for leaders to give out projects, only to get them returned late, missing an important deadline and making the manager look bad in front of clients, partners or bosses.

When you give out multiple tasks to your employees, you need to assert yourself as the person who decides when things are due.

Do not leave it up to your staff members to figure out what they need to focus on first.

A simple phrase such as, “this takes priority,” will provide clear and detailed instructions to your workers about what they need to focus on first.

“I will review and come to a decision shortly.”

It’s important to make your employees feel that you are a team and that you value their thoughts, opinions and decisions.

However, there is a clear hierarchy in the office, with a manager being the top of that hierarchy.

Your employees need to understand that and respect you enough to accept your decisions.

Although you may ask your staff members to provide their input on a decision, you need to make it clear that you will be the ultimate party making that decision.

Saying something along the lines of “I will review your suggestions and come to a decision shortly,” is a simple and direct way to let your team know that you are the ultimate decision-maker in your department.

Plus, stating that you need time to review the suggestions allows you to make your employees feel appreciated by knowing that you will consider all of their thoughts, instead of automatically saying yes or no to some or others.

“I don’t appreciate that tone, you need to find a different way to communicate your thoughts.”

Although it’s a common belief that employees are scared of their managers and would never disrespect them, many leaders can attest that is not true.

Some individuals simply don’t know how to manage their emotions, and when they are upset or angry, they can lash out of their boss.

As a manager, it’s tough to figure out what to do in that situation; you want to be empathetic towards the other person, but you also want to establish clear boundaries and let the other person know what is a not acceptable in the office.

A good phrase to use in that scenario is “I don’t appreciate that tone, you need to find a different way to communicate your thoughts.”

This type of assertiveness makes it clear to the other person that you need them to respect you, and that you will not tolerate the way they are speaking to you.

However, you also keep your cool in this situation, and not say anything rude or hurtful, either.

How To Be Assertive With Your Boss

There are times when you face the dilemma of being asked to assist with a task or carry out a project when you simply don’t have the time to do so.

Your response to this request can have a huge impact not only on the time you have available to do your other work, but also on the relationship you have with the person asking.

Is it possible for you to be assertive in these situations and still maintain the relationship and get the tasks completed? Yes, it can be done, and we discuss them here.

First, let’s look at the causes of being submissive in these situations and what we can see as possible solutions:


Possible solutions

You want to be of assistance

This is a habit and may be taken for granted by others. See things from the perspective of it being your time and break the habit of always being the ‘yes guy’


Need to feel important and be involved

Put your efforts into things that really matter to you and be aware of when you can resist requests


Fear of causing offence

Learn how to say ‘no’ without it sounding aggressive or confrontational, e.g. ‘I can’t do this, but here’s a suggestion for how it can be done’


Not knowing how to say ‘no’

Practice and train yourself to say it


Others simply assume you’re going to say ‘yes’Identify situations where you find it hard to say ‘no’ and build the confidence to find another way.


Learning to say no is down to having an assertive mindset. We often see people who are ‘put-upon’ are those who are relatively submissive and don’t stand up for their own rights and needs.

If you find yourself in the position of being asked to carry out a task and need to say no but can’t, adopt these positions and see if they can work for you:

1) Identify those times when it won’t be possible for you to agree to someone else’s demands

This can be quite hard for some, but it’s a mindset that is necessary for you to maintain your own control and self-esteem.
If you’re the kind of person who agrees to do something for someone else and then moans and complains to everyone else about how you don’t have any time, then work on your own assertiveness rather than blaming everyone else for what is essentially your own shortcomings

2) Come up with solutions

Many times, we feel the only solution is to say yes to a request, even though you’re inundated with other things.

In many cases, saying no and finding an alternative might be best for all concerned.

Look at the task and work out with the other person what results they are looking for. See if anyone else can help out with the task. Is the task urgent? Can it wait? Is the task more important than the ones you are currently working on? How will you measure the success of the task?

The answers to these questions will help you decide if someone else can assist or if the task can really wait until you have time.

3) Practice saying no and looking for alternatives

By practicing saying no, you build up your assertiveness muscles and can face these situations with confidence.

But what if it’s your boss who’s always making the requests? Do you find it more difficult if it’s something being requested by a higher authority?

It may not be the right time and place to say no when the request is made. Find a time when it’s appropriate to have a chat with them, outside the time of the request, and ask them for some of their time.

Ask them to discuss what can be done when requests are made, and you don’t have time to complete them. Talk about how these situations can be managed. Bring to their attention that there may be times when you simply can’t get the request done but find it awkward to say ‘no’. Gain their help in these situations and ask what they would like to do when these difficult timing situations occur.

You both want to get the tasks completed but you feel the pressure may be too great sometimes. How would you want to respond under those circumstances?

Being clear on what your position is outside of those clutch moments will help your boss see there might have to be different solutions sought. Their understanding of your dilemma may help them get the results they want without having to impose on you.

Remember, there is always more than one option available to get tasks completed, so if you are able to say ‘no’ at the right time, in the right way, under the right circumstances, it will enable you to grow in your assertiveness while still finding solutions and without impacting on your other roles.

How To Be An Assertive Manager

Let’s wrap this up by looking at how you can be assertive without coming across as a dictator!

It is a commonly held thought that only strong assertive people get on in the workplace and that you won’t be successful if you are shy. This is not necessarily true and the good news is that assertiveness can be learned.

There is also a case that overly assertive almost aggressive people will upset too many people along the way to be entirely successful if they hope to manage people effectively.

Like many things in life it is about achieving a balance between aggressive and permissive behaviour. In this article we look at a few ideas for developing your assertiveness without going too far.

Understand The Context

Being assertive at the appropriate moment is part of the skill. Much will depend upon the culture of the team or organisation and even the country you are working in. If high forcefulness is valued in the organisation then it will useful to display these behaviours.

Depending upon the organisation some women may feel that they have to be a bit more assertive in order to get on. This can be quite a dilemma as over doing this can lead them being viewed negatively.

Set Yourself Goals For Each Situation

If you are serious about developing your assertiveness skills, then it pays to set goals for what you want to achieve in a particular situation. For example if you want your point of view to be heard in a managers meeting then you might want to set yourself an initial target of putting your point across at least once in the next meeting. Taking time to plan ahead for the meeting will not only help your confidence to make a real contribution it is likely to make you one of the most prepared for the meeting! This can only be a good thing as you stand head and shoulders above anyone else who has not done so sufficiently.

Assess Your Current Levels Of Assertiveness

One of the most useful techniques in getting this right is by consciously assessing yourself. After the situation carry out a self-assessment by reflecting upon your performance. Did you achieve what you set out to do? How successful were and if you were not, what prevented you be being so? Ask other people who you trust to give you feedback. Taking the managers’ meeting as an example, consider asking another manager to give you their perception of how you appeared during the meeting. It will be interesting to see how assertive they think you are or should be in that situation.

Build Relationships

In many situations you may not even need to be especially assertive, you just need to know how to build good relations with colleagues and understand what is important to them. By helping them to achieve these things you are quite likely to influence them and help to get what you want. In fact you will be looking at a ‘win-win’ scenario.

Be Aware Of The Line

Finally, always be constantly aware whether you have crossed the line of acceptable assertiveness. Watch for people’s reactions especially their body language. If you find that people are suddenly negative towards you then consider whether this was expected or not and whether you need to tone it down.

Being assertive can be a great skill in making sure that people take you seriously. Set yourself goals and stick to them. Assess your performance and ask others too. Like many things, keep practicing until you get it right.

In terms of being assertive, do you handle conflict well?

If you find it uncomfortable we have a useful How To Manage Conflict guide that will help you.

If you’re looking to take your assertiveness skills onto the next level we have a FREE resource that can help you. Our 7 Competencies Of A Great Manager guide will equip you with the skills and behaviours you need to be successful at what you.

Looking to develop your management skills further? Check out our Essential Management Skills open course or our Online Management Training.

Thanks again



Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training

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Updated on: 15 May, 2020

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