Be Assertive, not an Ass


Being assertive is the simplest, most direct way to influence someone. Why? As human beings, we generally tend to believe what others tell us, and question what others question. At our core, we are non-confrontational (yes, it’s true), and to dispute a direct statement invites lots of conflict… so we only do it when absolutely necessary.

In our Assert Yourself workshop, we define assertiveness as your ability to be confident and forceful to the appropriate level. It’s a combination of your ability to state facts simply and straightforwardly, and how you are perceived by others while you do that.

Although that’s a decent definition for what Assertiveness is, it doesn’t always satisfy. The reason is because we all want to know exactly how to walk the razor-thin line between being assertive, and just, well, being an ass (especially if we’re women).

Well, my friends, I have a few key nuggets for you that might help you walk that line a little more confidently:

1. Active listening

People like to be listened to, and then acknowledged for what they just said. It’s practically a basic human need to know that we are valued for our intelligence and contributions. Even if you totally disagree with someone, simply acknowledging their point of view will go a long way to making the people you’re talking to open up, feel heard, and maybe even come around.

2. Validate your packaging

How you frame your statements - the wrapping that you put around your point, and the skills of storytelling or presentation-making that you leverage - are all critical components of how your information is received, processed, and eventually responded to. Context is important. Tone is relevant. That means you have to spend the time to pre-vet your ideas. Dole out pieces of information in small doses and gauge reactions along the way. Try different framing, or start with a different story. Rapid iteration will help you land exactly how you want to package your point before the critical moment arises.

3. Watch your body language

Your body will almost always speak louder than your voice. Here are a few things to keep in mind that’ll keep you strongly in the Assertive category and out of the Ass world:


  • Steady, but natural eye contact
  • Squared shoulders, with arms calmly at side
  • Broad, sweeping arm movements
  • Hands between waist- and chest-level
  • Palms up to the sky and visible
  • Low, steady voice


  • Straight-up stare down
  • Crossed arms
  • Short, clipped arm movements
  • Hands raised above the shoulders
  • Back of hands, or palms out in a “HALT” gesture
  • Raised, higher-register voice

Experiment with these tips and see what you discover. How do you walk the line between being assertive and an ass?

-- Stephanie Judd, Cofounder, wolf & heron