What if ‘being assertive’ makes you feel ‘aggressive’?

Trisha Lewis - Unsquashed!
6 min readJul 17, 2022


3 ways to be assertive whilst remaining true to your reflective, quieter self.

..we don’t have to give up our niceness to be powerful.

Fran Hauser — The Myth of the Nice Girl

Do you feel ‘out of character’ when you try to be more ‘assertive’?

Imagine you are in a networking setting — either virtual or in real life.

A room/screen full of mainly strangers.

You immediately clock the ‘talkers’ — the ‘extroverts’ the ‘spontaneous’. You feel yourself retreating inside yourself!

You have some interesting and relevant ideas to share and questions to ask — but somehow your mic stays on mute. Maybe you spot a good moment where the talkers have gone quiet and you gather your thoughts before putting your hand up, unmuting and sharing…

Too late — the talkers rise up once more!

You are telling yourself that you are ‘not one of those ‘loud/chatty/extrovert’ types. You might even be thinking — ‘I don’t want to look like a ‘show-off’.

At the end of the session you feel invisible and bland. You feel cross with yourself.

You promise yourself that next time you will ‘be more assertive’.

Your moment comes. You get assertive…

“I want to interject here! I want to have a chance to introduce myself before we run out of time.”


That felt loud and bossy!

You look around and see fear in their eyes!

You feel your heart pounding and skin flushing. Time stands still.

You feel like running away. You will NEVER be assertive again!

You burble something out and apologise for taking too much time!

I am exaggerating — but maybe not that much.

What’s going on?

Why does ‘being more assertive’ make you feel ‘aggressive’?

The above example illustrates two illusions. Illusions are one of the ‘trinity of squashers’ — FIBs as I call them. Fears Illusions and Baggage that hold you back.

Illusion one

The illusion that there are two separate sets of personality traits — and ne’er the twain shall meet!

Are you associating ‘assertive’ with ‘loud’ and do you identify as ‘quiet’? No wonder being more assertive makes you feel all out of sorts.

I love the way Susan Cain lists some broad categories in her excellent book ‘Quiet’.

List one — the ‘reflective’ types:

  • Bookish
  • Unassuming
  • Thoughtful
  • Modest
  • Shy

and more.

List two — the ‘assertive’ types:

  • Ebullient
  • Gregarious
  • Dominant
  • Bold
  • Comfortable in the spotlight

You might also use the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’.

Another way we make associations is through the repeated mantras we have embedded into our thinking.

We grow up with phrases like:

‘Don’t be shy’.

‘Go on — push yourself forward more.’

‘Show them who’s boss’!

‘Be more arsey!’

‘The feisty ones get their voice heard!’

‘Scary Spice!’ (I added that one for fun — but you get the gist.)

BUT… labels and sterotypes have their limits and labelling yourself throughout life can hold you back.

You don’t need to feel that if you tick all the traits in list one, you can’t be ‘assertive’.

You don’t need to fear that if you are assertive you will suddenly become all the other things on that list and sell your sensitive subtle soul!

When you think like this, you are self-squashing ®

Illusion two

You know what people are thinking!

Simple — you are not a mind reader.

You are transferring your fears into the imagined reactions of others.

Remember to press pause and use your relective skills to come up with a more rational and realistic reframe.

Awareness of the illusions is a good foundation to build your new approach to assertiveness on.

Now for some practical actions.

Three assertive tactics for the quieter reflective types.

1. Make notes — Listen and ask questions

When the talkers are busy talking, you are listening. Active listening is one of your communication strengths.

Listening is an opportunity to display gravitas — an element of ‘assertiveness’.

If you are relecting, join the dots for the audience, help them find common ground and identify challenges… the quality of what you say reflects the quality of your listening.

Caroline Goyder — Gravitas

You have a super-power — your relective thinking. Use it.

Have a notepad and pen with you at all times! Listen — whilst the talkers talk.

With your ‘detective mindset’ spot the points of interest and connection.

You don’t need to be ‘spontaneous’ and shouty — you simply need to refer to your notes as you interject with ideas and questions that enrich the conversation.

2. Interrupt nicely

When you sense that moment has come — use those notes and speak up. You will engage because you are referring to things that have been said and you are showing interest. You now have the spotlight — so use this moment to add an insight or question.

If you feel you are being interrupted — there are ways of putting a halt to that without being ‘aggressive’!

For example:

Just before you make your point — I want to put a thought out there that might add to the conversation…

I am worried that our time will run out before I ask a question that I really want your input on…

Oh — hang on — I am a bit slow on speaking up — but need to just add this thought to the conversation….

Use smiles and some humour — even a little ‘self-deprecation’ — and you can do this without looking weak! Find your balance between strength and warmth.

Part of communication is about ‘acting’ — or ‘Presentation of Self’ as Goffman calls it. Being in charge of your communication mixer board and using it, does not make you inauthentic.

If you show that you share the concerns and interests of your colleagues, that you are working for the greater good of the group, that projects strength while also projecting warmth.

Neffinger and Kohut — Compelling People

3. Arrange one to one meetings

Use your strengths! Set the agenda!

Consider arranging a one to one chat before the event/meeting or after.

You probably feel more comfortable and more able to be yourself in a one to one situation — and guess what — you won’t be alone.

To sum up

Reframe ‘aggressive assertive’ to ‘quietly assertive’. There is much power in calm quiet.

Use your listening and thinking time wisely — one or two contributions from you can make you more visible and engaged with than a thousand words from someone else.

I will conclude with a calm quote:

In conversation, often the most powerful moments are not when you are speaking but when you pause and make room for the other person…. What you have most to offer others, you have to offer least of all through what you say, in greater part through what you do, but in greatest part through who you are.

Bob Burg and John David Mann

One more thing.

Why do you need to work on being heard?

The more you hold back and feel ‘unheard’ — the more frustrated you feel. Frustration can lead to a strange form of anger — anger at yourself for not being yourself!

When you hold back, stuff down what wants to come out, and play nice out of fear, you feel bad. Over time you feel less alive, less engaged, more resistant, and more resentful. Your energy drains and ….

Dr Aziz Gasipura — Not Nice

Trisha Lewis is the author of ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self’ and host of the Make it Real podcast and regularly shares insights and tips on communication skills, confidence and impact — with a focus on ‘being real’ as you show up to share. TEDx Speaker ‘Beware the Self-Squashing Prophecy’.



Trisha Lewis - Unsquashed!

What if we spotted and sorted our 'self squashing ®' - what if we used curiosity as an anitdote to comparisonitis and self-consciousness? Let's see!