Assertiveness: Your Master Key To Success

The Chief Superintendent, Rajan was doing some urgent work when his subordinate clerk Sugunan came to his cabin and asked permission to leave the office for some personal matters. It was about 3.30 PM only and hence Rajan was hesitant to give him permission to leave so early. Moreover, there was a lot of work to be completed urgently and there are maters that he needs to concentrate and should have been completed without fail before leaving for the day. But, he was not bold enough to say ‘no’ to his subordinate.However, Rajan asked Sugunan in a soft and feeble voice; “Did you complete that report?”

“Not complete sir, I will surely complete it tomorrow, sir….” he replied in a louder voice. “Now I have to go for an urgent personal matter,” he continued. Rajan was in a dilemma. He actually knew that his subordinate’s demand was inappropriate and unreasonable. But he began to think of the consequences, if he denies him permission. Their personal relationship will be strained and he may have to face some resistance in the office. He actually wanted to say a big ‘no’, but was not bold enough to do so.

Rajan, without expressing his displeasure and internal dilemma,gave him permission to go early. He was really worried about his inability to say ‘no’ to his subordinate’s unexpected and unreasonable demand.It was nearly about 4 O’clock when Rajan was called by the Head of the office and asked to submit the report which was very much due. It was Sugunan who was responsible for preparing the report but he had left the office with his permission, without completing the work. Rajan was really stressed and began to curse himself for showing such unwanted leniency allowing his subordinate to leave early, without insisting him to submit the report first. It was with the help of others in the office that Rajan could manage to prepare the report in a hurry and submit it. Anyway, he realized and learned a lesson that he will be in trouble if he is not assertive enough in the office.Similar incidents are common in many offices and workplaces. A good number of officers or executives rarely use their authority and power to make their subordinates do their work properly. They often fail to make the legitimate demands and extract work and commitment. They often become submissive to the unreasonable demands of employees and thereby fail to fulfill their own responsibility and duty properly and timely.

Inability to say ‘No’
If you are unable to say ‘no’ to others’ unreasonable requests or demands in your daily life, you will become a frustrated and powerless person. You will be a big failure in your life. If you try to please everybody, you cannot say ‘no’ to others. Warren Buffet once said; ‘The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything’.So, be courageous enough to say ‘no’ to others requests or demands if they are unreasonable. As the famous psychologist and author of the bestselling book; ‘When I Say No, I Feel Guilty’, reminds us; ‘you have the right to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty’. If you hesitate to say ‘no’, you cannot be assertive, both in your profession and life.Assertiveness is your master key to success and happiness.

3 Types of behaviors
Psychologists have identified three types of behaviors.
1) Assertive behavior
2) Passive or Submissive behavior
3) Aggressive behavior.

Assertive Behavior
Assertiveness is nothing but showing confidence and courage to stand up for your rights while, still respecting the rights of others. An assertive person shows the ability to express his feelings, opinions,beliefs and needs directly and honestly, but he is respectful towards the feelings of others. He knows how to communicate what he wants in a clear, unambiguous and respectful manner. He is not at all afraid or hesitant to speak his mind, expressing himself in authentic, effective and powerful ways. He is honest, sincere, direct and skillfully articulating his views. An assertive person is neither aggressive nor passive or submissive. He is in the ideal and healthy life position, ‘I’m Ok, you’re Ok’. Assertive behavior is the appropriate behavior. It is a healthier and ethical path to success. By being assertive, you gain respect for yourself,have more time for your priorities and develop authentic and healthier relations. You will then become highly and rightly acclaimed as an effective leader

Submissive or passive Behavior
A submissive person fails to voice his opinion boldly. His tendency is to comply with the wishes and demands of others in order to just please them. He has a strong desire to be liked by others and hence fails to communicate his own needs and feelings. He agrees with others opinions and demands, suppressing even his own rights and needs.A passive or submissive person tries to avoid hurting others, even by hurting himself. He later worries about his inability to say ‘no’. He holds the unhealthy life position; ‘you’re ok, I’m not ok’. Since he fails to fulfill his responsibilities and achieve his goals, he becomes frustrated.

Aggressive behavior
Aggressive behavior is just opposite to submissive behavior. An aggressive person is always looking out for himself and is least bothered about others rights and feelings. He wants to achieve his aims somehow or other, even risking others’ rights and self-respect. Certain managers and executives are trying to make their subordinates work hard by instilling fear in them. They are concerned about their own good only and not bothered about others needs, difficulties and problems. Under such managers, employees will be unhappy and frustrated, even angry and revengeful. Aggressive behavior may make others behave in a submissive or extremely aggressive way and may lead to dangerous consequences, outbursts and conflicts. Aggressiveness is the expression of the unhealthy life position; ‘I’m ok, you’re not ok’.As the famous American author, Shakti Gawain pointed out; “Assertiveness is not what you do, it’s who you are’. According to Dr.Edith Eva Eger, a renowned author and clinical psychologist; ‘To be passive is let others decide for you, to be aggressive is to decide for others, to be assertive is to decide for yourself and to trust that there is enough that you are enough’.

Why one is not assertive
Psychologists have identified several reasons for not being assertive. Fear, anxiety, habit, inferiority complex and lack of self–confidence are the major causes of non assertive behavior.If a manager is not saying ‘no’ to an unreasonable demand or request of his subordinate, that may be because of his habit to please others. He may be anxious and fearful about the consequences and may not be bold enough to say ‘no’. Parents, teachers, and elders are usually responsible for developing passive behavior in children. They encourage and even praise them when they avoid conflicts and quarrels by keeping quiet and not raising their voice against the denial of their own rights.These children are thus conditioned for a pleasing behavior. Sometimes,this type of conditioning happens for aggressive behavior also, by way of the encouragements children receive for their bullying behavior. Parents and teachers can do a lot for bringing up their children as assertive individuals, not as submissive or aggressive persons.

How to become assertive?
There are several ways to make you more assertive. Nowadays assertive training programmes are conducted for managers, executives and parents to teach them this skill. The following are some practical strategies you can adopt for improving your assertive behavior.

1. Understand assertiveness and its importance.
First of all, you have to clearly understand what assertiveness is and why it is important for success in your life. Also, know how assertiveness is different from submissiveness and aggressiveness.

2. Commit to be assertive for your own success and happiness.
Your success and happiness greatly depend on your assertive behavior. You need not sacrifice your rights and needs and suppress your opinions and feelings for unnecessarily pleasing others. Beverly Engel, the internationally recognized psychologist and psychotherapist and author warns us; ‘If you live your life to please everyone else, you will continue to feel frustrated and powerless’

3. Learn to say ‘No’
Always remember that you have the right to say ‘no’, without feeling guilty. Nobody else will protect your rights, if you fail to stand up for it. So be bold enough to say a strong ‘no’ to others’ unreasonable demands and requests.

4. Speak directly and clearly.
Be simple, concise, clear and direct in your communication. Use your words carefully so that others may not feel guilty or hurt. You need not talk too much. Be precise and to the point.

5. Use ‘I’ statements.
Use ‘I’ statements in your conversation to make others easily understand your thinking and feeling. For example, don’t say; ‘You are not at all reasonable’, instead say; ‘I think your request is not reasonable.’ Don’t order or command like’ ‘You should do this today itself,” Instead say; “I would like you to do this today”.Thus, you can avoid to be viewed as aggressive.

6. Be aware of your body language.
You can use a powerful and confident body language. Maintain a strong eye contact with others when you speak or listen to them. Don’t show the sign of nervousness or timidity by unknowingly moving legs or hands, moving pen and papers on the table or looking out aimlessly.

7. Stay calm by keeping your emotions under control.
Learn to stay cool and calm deliberately in conflicting situation. Try to maintain a pleasant facial expression. If you feel too emotional, wait a bit and breathe normally and slowly. Don’t show anger or frustration and become a boiling kettle. Express yourself with clam but bold voice. It will make you more confident and assertive.

8. Do a self analysis of your behavior.
Do a self analysis to know whether you are submissive or aggressive in nature. If you feel that your behavior is more to the submissive side, try to be more confident and bold to stand up for your rights and needs and to say ‘no’ to others’ unreasonable demands. If you are usually aggressive in your behavior, try to control your emotions and be calm and cool in your communications with others. Behave always with empathy and consider others’ needs and rights are equally important as yours. Remember that assertiveness is in between submissiveness and aggressiveness.

9. Practice assertive behavior.
Assertiveness becomes stronger and stronger with repeated practice. So use all opportunities you get to practice and develop assertiveness using the strategies and techniques discussed here.In short, try always to be assertive without being rude or mean. For this, you should view yourself as equal to others, not higher or lower to them. As the world’s famous HR consultant and executive coach Nicky Rowe advises; ‘Learn to be assertive without anger attached to it’.


john muzhuthettu
Dr. John Muzhuthettu

Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer, and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is a columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV. He is the author of five best-selling books:

‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(CSS, Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than a thousand  seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.

Read More from Dr. John Muzhuthettu:

Greatest Lessons for Developing an Amazing Personality

Crying: A Holistic Self-Healing Process

Great Lessons of Public Speaking From the Greatest Orators of History

Social Connections: An Ideal Prescription for Holistic Health, and Longevity

Miraculous Powers of Forgiveness to Transform Your Life

The Magic of Charity Can Change Your Life

Impression Management: The Art and Science of Success








  1. As in the other articles Dr. John elaborated all the aspects of Assertiveness. He described the three types of behaviors, namely Assertive behavior, passive or submissive behavior and aggressive behavior. The reason behind why a person is not assertive can have different reasons like fear, anxiety, habit, inferiority complex and lack of self confidence.
    Then he described how one can be assertive. One should recognize the importance of assertiveness for the success and happiness learning to say ‘No’. Also it is necessary to speak directly and clearly using ‘I’ statement. Also one should stay calm, keeping the emotions under control and aware of ones body language practice assertive behavior.
    It is a valuable article that sheds light to management training.


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