Being assertive is not being bossy!

What holds you back from being more assertive? Spot it and sort it.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you hesitated to speak up because you didn’t want to come across as bossy? Well, fear no more! In this article we’re going to debunk the misconception that being assertive means being bossy.

READ IT NOW! (Yeap — that was just plain bossy).

Assertiveness is a big topic — so to avoid rambling on — I will use four headings and keep the paragraphs short!

· The difference between assertive and bossy.

· The key ingredients of assertive communication.

· The reasons we hold back from being assertive.

· Small steps to increase your assertiveness.

The difference between assertive and bossy.

Being assertive means expressing your thoughts, needs, and opinions in a clear and respectful manner, while also considering the feelings and perspectives of others.

Being bossy involves imposing your ideas and desires onto others without regard for their feelings or input.

In my TEDx talk I explore something I call ‘self squashing’ — and I say ‘you are not showing off unless you are showing off!’

The same applies to being bossy.

You are not being bossy, unless you are being bossy.

Do not confuse feeling that you are ‘being bossy’ with being bossy.

The key ingredients of assertive communication

· Respect

Finding a balance between expressing yourself and respecting the rights and opinions of others. Sharing your thoughts and ideas without diminishing or belittling others.

· Active listening

Show that their thoughts and opinions matter to you — you value their perspective. Give others a chance to express themselves, ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.

· Setting boundaries

Clearly defining your limits and expectations helps others understand what is acceptable to you and encourages them to treat you with respect.

· Self-confidence

When you believe in your own worth and capabilities, it becomes easier to express yourself without feeling the need to dominate or control others.

· Collaboration — win-win intent.

Seeking common ground and working towards a resolution that satisfies everyone involved.

The reasons we hold back from being assertive.

Fear, illusions and baggage (I call this the FIBs)!


What scary things do we think might happen if we become more assertive?

· Fear of Conflict

· Fear of Rejection

· Fear of humiliation

Here is a quick reframe to help:

As Franklin D. Roosevelt wisely said — “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”


Societal and cultural norms can also influence assertiveness. Some cultures or social contexts may value deference, politeness, or conformity, which can discourage assertive behavior. Additionally, gender norms may dictate different expectations for assertiveness, with women, in particular, often facing stereotypes or backlash when expressing assertiveness.


Desire for Approval often stems from certain patterns from childhood — doesn’t need to be anything major to have embedded certain habits.

This might mean you have people pleasing behaviours turned up a little too high.

That might mean you add too many ‘look how lovely I am’ cushions to your communication!

What do I mean by that?

Habitually using phrases like:

· Sorry (said as habit for no real reason)

· If it’s not too much trouble

· I’m probably talking rubbish but…

· You know better than me ….

Small steps to increase your assertiveness.

Practice Makes Perfect:

Becoming assertive is a skill that can be developed with practice.

Start by recognizing situations where you tend to be passive or aggressive and make a conscious effort to respond assertively.

Practice expressing yourself clearly, using “I” statements to convey your feelings and needs without blaming or attacking others.

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-reflection
  • Building self-confidence
  • Developing communication skills
  • Challenging limiting beliefs

Step by step.

What about the link between impostor syndrome and lack of assertiveness?

Impostor syndrome and lack of assertiveness can be closely linked. Impostor syndrome refers to a persistent feeling of self-doubt, inadequacy, or the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of competence and success. When someone experiences impostor syndrome, they may struggle to internalize their accomplishments and believe that they are not truly deserving of their achievements.

This mindset can contribute to a lack of assertiveness in several ways:

· Self-Doubt

· Fear of Being Exposed

· Minimizing Achievements

· Seeking Constant Validation

· Perfectionism

It’s important to note that overcoming impostor syndrome and developing assertiveness go hand in hand. Building self-confidence, recognizing achievements, challenging negative self-talk, and developing effective communication skills are key steps in both combating impostor syndrome and encouraging assertiveness.

Coaching self-reflection, and support networks can be valuable resources in navigating these challenges and embracing a more assertive mindset.

Break your word associations — assertive is not bossy, aggressive, dominating or dogmatic!

Assertive is clear, collaborative and ….


Exploring your FIBs that are holding you back — unsquashing your self-belief — these are things I create resources on and explore with clients.

I also explore inner barriers — self-inflicted ‘self-squashing’ traps, in my book ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self’ and my TEDx talk — ‘Beware the Self Squashing Prophecy’.