7 simple phrases that instantly make you sound assertive (but not bossy)

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There’s a fine line between sounding assertive and sounding bossy. And it’s also easy to just end up being a pushover to avoid risking conflict. This is especially a problem for women who are often perceived at work as too bossy when they speak up and too weak when they stay silent.

I’ve spent time considering this issue and finding ways around it.

These phrases should help anyone, man or woman, to assert their boundaries, needs and ideas, without sounding pushy.

1) “I’m at full capacity!”

Don’t you hate it when your boss assigns you even more work without even asking if you can handle it? I always used to say yes in the past to avoid rocking the boat.

Because I never set realistic workload limits for myself, I’d end up overwhelmed and behind. Now I make sure to flag these situations quickly but without needing to feel anger, resentment or victimised.

For example, now I might say something like:

“I’m completely underwater already with projects X and Y this month. Plus I’m covering Jack’s accounts while he is away, which adds about another dozen weekly tasks for me to juggle.

Before assigning me any additional tasks could we chat about aligning my deadlines and priorities with my time and capacity, so that I can make sure that I do the best job on every task?”

Essentially what I’m doing here is positively framing the situation around producing excellence and doing my existing tasks well, without overextending my capacity or increasing my stress levels.

These types of diplomatic conversations can help to find win-win solutions that will keep you and your boss happy. After all, if you don’t tell them that you have too much work they won’t necessarily know. And then they’ll be complaining that your work isn’t good enough!

And best of all, the tone is polite and focused on achievement, rather than sounding bossy, nervous or like you are complaining.

2) “What originally shaped your perspective?”

This phrase is really helpful when you find yourself in a disagreement with someone else. By understanding where you are both coming from you can usually find the best possible resolution.

If you don’t take the time to do this and you just push your ideas through, this could end up making you seem arrogant and bossy. And it could also lead to resentment growing.

So instead I try to open up an exploratory dialogue that would go something like this:

“Thanks for your input. I respect that your viewpoint on this issue may well have been shaped by personal experiences that I’m unaware of. Since my perspective arises from my own journey, could you take a moment to explain where you are coming from so that we can understand each other better? What originally shaped your perspective on this issue?”

This is an engaging way to get someone else to help you see things from their viewpoint, and you will learn things along the way.

3) “Could we pause briefly?”

I’ve written a lot about the benefits of taking a moment to pause. 

It sounds kind of silly, but just one or two seconds of pausing can be enough to totally flip a situation on its head. Emotions can become calm, we can see things from other perspectives, we can think of new ideas, and we can understand how we really feel about things.

A couple of years ago I had a co-worker who was prone to brooding resentfully over perceived slights. Sometimes I noticed that we weren’t understanding each other and she was reading things into my words which I didn’t intend. I felt stressed and frustrated.

In situations like that, I would now say something such as “Feelings seem a bit charged right now on both sides. Why don’t we both take a little bit of time to process our emotions solo?”

This gives everyone a chance to cool down and make sure that what they are saying and doing is in line with what they truly want and believe.

4) “I’m still forming my perspective”

Sometimes we can be asked for an answer about something and we just aren’t ready to share what we think. Rather than saying something like ‘I don’t know’, you can reframe it in a way that shows that you are carefully considering the situation and you will get back to them when the time is right.

People will appreciate you for weighing up various perspectives rather than rushing towards a hasty judgment.

You can ask a thoughtful question – something like this: 

“You clearly have some very informed insights and experience. I’m still actively considering all dimensions of this issue before cementing my perspective. Could you please share with me which key events or evidence are shaping your convictions?”

This shows that your conclusion is still evolving and that you aren’t trying to shut down the discussion. It politely invites others to share their reasoning and gives you time to learn more.

It can be tempting just to blast through things when we don’t know the answer. But admitting that we have limitations and want to know more (in an assertive way), usually provides the best outcome for everyone.

5) “I don’t feel comfortable with this yet”

A lot of what we have talked about here has to do with one or another kind of pause. In life, we are often put in situations where we just aren’t ready to make a decision. And as we have seen, by asserting this confidently and yet humbly we can really benefit.

For example, have you ever felt pressure to adopt friends’ or family’s viewpoints before understanding if they are aligned with your core values? I know I certainly have, including on really important things like whether to have children.

Lately, I’ve been trying a new approach for when I need a bit more space I become clear in my own convictions.

In a work context I might say something like this:

“I appreciate your willingness to share your ideas on this deeply personal issue. I’m still doing internal work and reflecting on factors like X, Y and Z before making a choice. I hope you can understand me needing a bit more time to find out what truly feels aligned. Perhaps we could kindly revisit this conversation in a few weeks?”

This politely acknowledges the other person’s knowledge and experience, and the fact that they care enough to share it with you. But at the same time, it makes it clear that you have your own decision process and thought process to go through.

You can use the same kind of thing for friends and family – just use more informal language.

6) “I need some time for emotional processing”

As a Focusing Guide, I know that a lot of emotions can lie beneath the surface. And that it can take time to understand them. When we work through our feelings in a healthy way, we have space for openness, inward focus. And, when necessary, a ritual that honors our inner workings.

But sometimes after an intense conflict or situation, a loved one might want instant clarity. In this situation, I take a deep breath and then I gently request breathing room to sort out my heart and body.

But at the same time, I make sure that the other person feels loved and valued and knows that I’m not ignoring or stonewalling them.

I might say something like:

“I’m sorry for my reaction just now. I don’t fully understand why my own emotions escalated so much. I need a little bit of time to process everything emotionally, please.When I’ve had time to do that I know that I will be able to unravel this issue in a way that is better for both of us. Please know that I love and respect you.”

7) “I value a variety of perspectives”

When collaborating with others – whether at work, home or in the community – it’s important that all voices get heard before deciding on group plans.

But sometimes lively extroverts will dominate discussions before more quiet members have time to speak up. As a recovering people pleaser who is trying to set healthier boundaries, I would previously just keep silent to avoid conflict.

But now I’ll make sure there is space for everyone to participate. I might say something like:

“You’ve got some really wonderful ideas to share Tina. Thank you! I value diverse perspectives before we make a final decision. Let’s take a moment to pause so everybody can share their thoughts.”

This politely acknowledges eager speakers without interrupting their flow, and yet it also encourages more quiet people to step up and be seen and heard.

Once I began a regular practice of opening the floor for ALL voices I found that creativity flourished greatly in my team. Our best innovations arose when all of the personalities contributed instead of just a few.

Assertiveness means channeling our confidence to uphold not only our rights but also those of others. 

By asserting our appreciation for diverse voices and perspectives we can make sure that everybody is fairly represented and everybody’s wisdom can be shared, which in turn benefits the whole.

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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