Being assertive seems to come naturally to some people. Because some people are just natural leaders! But that doesn’t mean assertion can’t be learned, too.
Think about someone you know who exudes confidence. You probably think they’re assertive because of the way they speak, right?
Sure, the way they hold themselves and the status they have probably also makes a difference in how confident they appear.
But once you’ve got the basics down (i.e., talking assertively), people are more likely to pay attention to what you have to say, regardless of anything else.
If you dream about being able to command attention and respect in a meeting (virtual or otherwise!) take note.
In this article, I’ll run through the 7 phrases (that I learned the hard way) that immediately make you sound more assertive.
1) Do you have questions?
Don’t say: Let me know if you have any questions
Telling people they can ask questions is a statement. And statements can lead to silence.
Sometimes, making a statement is helpful if you, in fact, don’t want anyone to ask questions about what you’ve just said.
But it’s completely unhelpful if you actually want people to discuss your idea.
Think about it. If someone asks you a question, you’ll answer their question.
But if they tell you something, especially in a group setting, you probably won’t answer them. And that’s because they haven’t given you a reason to.
Say you’re in a meeting and you’ve given a presentation that you want people to discuss.
If you say, “Let me know if you have questions”, people will probably sit there in silence.
But if you say, “Do you have any questions?”, you’ll either get people shaking their heads (i.e., interacting with you) or saying “Yes …” and asking their question.
And it’s a more assertive way to end a presentation compared to leaving everyone in silence!
2) I’d like your input on this, what do you think?
- Does that make sense?
- Am I making sense?
When I worked a corporate job, I used to hear people say this all the time in meetings, emails, and on the phone.
And it created room for doubt in the other person’s mind.
It left them open to challenge, questioning, and even ridiculing (some people will, sadly, do anything to get ahead!).
In my experience, people normally say, “No” when someone asks, “Am I making sense?”.
This is usually to buy themselves time to think about their answer to the very good explanation that’s already been given.
Or they’d say “Yes but…”, which, honestly, was just as bad.
Asking for input and what someone thinks is a better way to confirm if they’ve understood and have any comments to make.
It sounds way more assertive and confident, and doesn’t leave you open to any challenge.
3) It is…
Don’t say: I think it is
It’s tempting in conversation to say, “I think it works like this” … or “I think this happens”, when you know with 100% certainty that that’s how it works.
Sometimes, saying “I think” can be helpful.
Like if you’re really not sure how something works and you want to caveat it to protect your reputation.
Because people can’t be annoyed or find fault in you if you’ve said you’re not sure.
But if you know that’s how it works and you say “I think” out of habit, it’s a bad habit to have if you want to sound more assertive.
So ditch the “I think” and just get straight to the point.
Say “It works like this” or “This happens when you do this”.
You’ll sound more confident and people will have more confidence in you, in return.
4) I’ll find out…
- I’m not sure…
- I’m not positive…
- I don’t know…
There’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to someone’s question. Especially if it’s not your job to know the answers to those questions.
But telling people you don’t know things or that you’re not sure doesn’t make you look that good.
Sometimes, when someone asks you a question, it’s better to say, “I’ll find out for you”, rather than using a good old fashioned, “I don’t know”.
It sounds more professional, proactive, and assertive.
If it’s not your area of expertise, say that, too.
For example, if someone asks you a question about something you know is Jenny’s job to know about, you can say:
“It’s not my area of expertise, but I’ll find out from Jenny who’s responsible for this”.
Or you could even protect your workload and say:
“It’s not my area, but if you contact Jenny, she can answer your questions”.
5) Is there an update on …?
My boss used to use this phrase on me all the time, and it took me years to figure out why it put me on edge.
It was because it was an assertive way to ask me what I was up to.
Colleagues used to make similar requests every day, but it never had the same impact on me.
They’d say things like:
- I’m just checking in…
- I just wanted to know…
- I just wanted to touch base…
- I just need an update on…
Essentially, the word “just” was the problem.
Because using the word “just” and leading with anything other than a question is fluffy and friendly. Which is fine, unless you’re trying to be more assertive.
Asking for an update is clear and direct. It asserts your authority in the situation.
Because, presumably, if you’re checking in with someone, it’s about something they should be doing. Because it’s their job.
Therefore, you have every right to ask them about the status.
So skip the fluffiness and get straight to the point if you want to sound more confident.
6) We’ll finish here…
- Should we finish?
- Does anyone else have any other questions?
As the person leading the discussion, you should be the one to decide when the meeting ends.
Asking other people whether they think the meeting or conversation should end just makes you look like you’re not in control (a mistake I’ve made).
Additionally, opening the room up for further questions when you want to finish isn’t the right way to end things (another fact I learned the hard way!).
When the meeting needs to end, end it by telling everyone we’re finishing up.
Asking people if they have more questions can just lead you back to chat, so you’ll never wrap things up.
So ditch the question and stick to the statements if you want to have more control and appear more confident.
7) Let’s move on…
Don’t say: Should we move on?
Using this assertive phrase only works in very specific situations.
As a former project manager who was always running meetings, I learned the hard way that it’s better to tell people you’re moving on from a discussion rather than ask them for it.
When people are getting way too into a debate and it’s becoming unhelpful, sometimes it’s best to take control (if you’re leading the discussion) and close it down.
Asking if everyone is ready to move on will likely lead to people saying “No”, or “I just want to add one more thing…”.
And before you know it, the meeting is completely derailed and you spend another 20 minutes in the unhelpful chatter.
But telling people you’re moving on immediately asserts your authority – and keeps things light and polite.
The saying “Fake it til you make it” exists for a reason: it works!
Even if you don’t feel like you are or deserve to be assertive (hello imposter syndrome!), you have every right to be.
With just a few small changes to the way you speak, you can command more respect and attention in any meeting or conversation.
So, the next time the opportunity arises, give some of these phrases a go and see how it makes you feel!