Healthy Assertiveness for Team Communication and Collaboration

At the beginning of my career, I worked as a front-end developer and UX Designer on many challenging and diverse teams. When presenting my design to the back-end developers, they often said it wasn’t possible without explanation. This frustrated me, and over time, I found myself being more and more aggressive. This behavior could have easily been perceived as arrogant or even combative. Thanks to an excellent leader who called me out on this many years ago, I learned to be more sensitive to others while still getting my point across. I learned how to be assertive.

Assertiveness means collaborating with honesty and respect for other’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Being assertive, not aggressive, has helped me succeed as a UX designer by allowing me to communicate my ideas, collaborate with stakeholders, address challenges, and advocate for user-centered design principles. By embracing assertiveness, I’ve built a solid professional presence and established myself as a valuable asset in the UX design community.

I’ve broken down how to become more assertive so that you can also have a successful and fulfilling career. It’s up to you how far you will go and how intentional you will be with your growth and progress.

Why We Need Assertiveness

We can improve our self-esteem and identity by expressing ourselves more confidently. Clearly stating our needs increases the chance of meeting them. Improving our self-esteem creates a snowball effect where our confidence continuously grows.

Being assertive saves energy and reduces tension by removing the worry of upsetting others or being too aggressive. Practicing assertiveness increases resilience, making it easier to assert oneself in the future.

Assertiveness Defined

Assertiveness refers to a way of behaving and communicating with others. It involves expressing our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs honestly without violating other people’s rights. It’s a better alternative to being aggressive or manipulative, where we abuse other people’s rights, or being passive, where we abuse our rights.

By being assertive, we can:

  • Express our emotions and opinions without feeling self-conscious or aggressive.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Say no to what you don’t want.
  • Get your needs and wants to be met.
  • Gain others’ respect and build influence.

Sometimes, we struggle to be assertive, especially in difficult situations. The ‘DESC’ model can help us express our feelings and achieve our desired outcomes.

Am I Assertive Enough?

To determine if you are not assertive enough at work or in most situations, answer the questions below with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Do you struggle with these challenges?

You may want to be more assertive if you answer ‘yes’ to 3 or more of the questions below.

  1. Feel under-appreciated, under-valued, and not recognized for your hard work?
  2. Often find yourself quiet in situations where you wish you had said something.
  3. Ruminate and replay responses over and over in your mind?
  4. Feel conflicted between speaking up and being a decent nice person?
  5. Are you afraid of sounding mean, aggressive, or rude when you stand up for yourself?
  6. Find it hard to ask for what you want.
  7. Want to feel in control over your career and time?
  8. Miss out on opportunities at work because others don’t notice you?

Do you feel challenged by these emotions?

You may need to be more assertive if you answer ‘yes’ to 2 or more questions below.

  1. Stress
  2. Guilt
  3. Shame
  4. Hopeless
  5. Impostor syndrome
  6. Overwhelmed


Improve how you talk about yourself.

  • Pay attention to your thoughts by journaling and becoming more aware of what’s on your mind.
  • Identify any negative thoughts. For example, you might think, “I’m terrible at board meetings. I’m so awkward, and I always say the wrong thing.”
  • Challenge your negative thoughts. Think about all the board meetings where things went well. Remember how you felt and how people responded to you.
  • Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Tell yourself, “I do well in meetings because I’m an engaging speaker and a good listener.”

Your use of language and body language matters.

  • Maintain good posture.
  • Make eye contact if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Face the speaker when you’re listening to them.
  • Use friendly or neutral facial expressions.
  • Use confident, intentional gestures.
  • Keep your voice calm and controlled.

Be brief and stick to your point to get your message across.

  • Don’t keep adding to your message or repeating your words.
  • Write your script in advance, practice with a trusted colleague, and ask for feedback on how it sounds.
  • Try not to be distracted by excuses the other person makes. While you may acknowledge these, the key to the effectiveness of this approach is to stick to your point and get your message across.

Examples of Getting Your Point Across

? Instead of saying…? Say this instead…
There’s this thing tonight if you want to come. Not sure if you’re into it.I’m going to a concert tonight. I’d love for you to come with me if you can!
I’m usually busy on Fridays.I’m sorry, I can’t attend your party on Friday—I already have other plans.
I probably won’t get around to sending those emails today.Could you please send the emails we discussed earlier? I’m really busy right now. I appreciate it!

Communication Styles and Importance

There are four (4) main types of communication styles:

  1. Passive: People who use this style repeatedly avoid conflict and have difficulty expressing their opinions and needs. They may come across as indecisive or even apologetic.
  2. Aggressive: This style involves expressing opinions forcefully and sometimes even manipulatively. Aggressive communicators may disregard the opinions and needs of others.
  3. Passive-Aggressive: This style combines elements of both passive and aggressive communication. Passive-aggressive communicators may appear agreeable on the surface but then act out subtly, undermining others.
  4. Assertive: This style involves expressing opinions and needs clearly and directly while respecting the opinions and needs of others. Assertive communicators strive for win-win outcomes rather than trying to dominate or please others.
Communication styles include aggressive, assertive, passive-aggressive, and passive.

When To Use Assertiveness

Assertiveness is a valuable communication style to use in many different situations. Here are a few examples of when to use assertiveness:

Setting Boundaries

Assertiveness allows you to set boundaries in your personal and professional life. For example, if a coworker constantly interrupts you during meetings, you can use assertiveness to explain how their behavior affects you and ask them to stop.

Expressing Your Needs and Opinions

Assertiveness gives you the tools to express your needs and opinions clearly and directly. Expressing these needs can be helpful when you feel your voice isn’t loud enough or need to advocate for yourself.

Resolving a Conflict

Assertiveness can help you resolve conflicts with others respectfully and productively. Using assertiveness, you can work together to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

When You Need to Say No

Saying no can be difficult, but assertiveness can make it easier. When you use assertiveness to say no, you can communicate your decision clearly and confidently without feeling guilty or ashamed.

Meet the DESC Model

This model can be used to communicate assertively with team members (or anyone) to express feelings and achieve desired outcomes.

The DESC model is a framework for improving assertiveness in communication. It has four steps:

  1. Describe: Specifically, describe the behavior which is negatively affecting you. Stick to the facts.
  2. Express: Explain how the behavior makes you feel. Use ‘I’ so that you take ownership of your feelings.
  3. Specify: Be clear about the desired outcome, i.e., what behavior you want them to change.
  4. Consequences: Tell them what will happen if the behavior does/does not change.

Examples Using the DESC Model

Employees are upset about being asked to work overtime due to unrealistic deadlines.

  1. Describe — Say, “I am working late 3–4 times a week to meet the deadlines you have agreed for the management reports.”
  2. Express — Say, “I feel under pressure to meet these deadlines and annoy that I can’t leave work on time like the rest of the team.”
  3. Specify — Suggest “checking with me regarding my workload before you agree to the deadlines. This will enable us to discuss what is realistic and avoid me having to work late so often.”
  4. Consequences — Explain “If I am consulted before the deadlines are agreed upon, then I will be able to focus on the detail of the reports rather than rushing to finish them.”

Loud shouting behavior that has a negative impact on the recipient.

  1. Describe — Say, “When you start shouting, I want to end the conversation immediately.”
  2. Express — Say, “I feel attacked and defensive.”
  3. Specify — Say, “I need you to tell me clearly and calmly what I’m doing to upset you so I can understand my role in this.” or “Your shouting disrupts our co-workers and our ability to focus on our customers.”
  4. Consequences — Explain “or I will ignore you.” or “so that we can work more collaboratively.”

Tips and Tricks for Using Assertiveness

Know the Difference Between Assertive and Aggressive

Being assertive means standing up for your beliefs without disrespecting others. Being aggressive means putting your needs above others’ feelings and opinions.

Communicate Effectively

Good communication is vital to assertiveness. Listen to others, express yourself clearly, and focus on facts, not assumptions.

Practice Assertiveness

Practice being assertive with your product team through role-playing. It helps you understand how you come across and how others see you. You can also practice asserting yourself by respectfully sharing your opinions and needs.

Use Assertiveness Strategies

Once you’re comfortable with the basics, use specific assertiveness strategies, such as “I” statements or “broken record” techniques. These will help you feel more in control of the conversation and respect yourself.

Your Next Steps

Overall, assertiveness is helpful for anyone looking to communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships. You can improve your personal and professional life in countless ways by understanding when to use assertiveness and how to communicate assertively.

Now that you better understand what assertiveness is and why it’s essential, it’s time to take action. Here are some steps you can take to become more assertive:

  1. Identify areas in your life where you could be more assertive. These areas could be at work, in your relationships, or in other areas of your life.
  2. Practice being assertive in low-stakes situations. Start by expressing your opinions and needs in situations with little risk involved.
  3. Use the DESC model to communicate assertively. When you encounter a situation where you need to be more assertive, use the DESC model to structure your communication.
  4. Seek feedback from others. Ask trusted friends, family members, or colleagues for feedback on your communication style and assertiveness.
  5. Continue learning about assertiveness. Read books and articles, or attend workshops to continue building your knowledge and skills.

By taking these steps, you can become more confident in expressing your needs and opinions, build stronger relationships, and achieve your personal and professional goals. Good luck, and let me know your progress!