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Constantly Getting Talked Over in Meetings? These 5 Communication Skills Will Help You Become More Assertive at Work and Get Your Voice Heard

Whether you’re conversing with colleagues or giving a presentation in a meeting, I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate being interrupted mid-sentence. Below we discuss communication skills that will help you prevent this and become more assertive at work.

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Whether you’re conversing with colleagues or giving a presentation in a meeting, I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate being interrupted mid-sentence. Below we discuss communication skills that will help you prevent this and become more assertive at work.


Picture this - you and your associate are in a meeting with your boss and a client pitching an exciting new idea that you came up with for their brand’s strategy. When you’re halfway through explaining how this strategy will make the client big bucks, your colleague interrupts you mid-sentence and starts talking over you. Before you know it, the presentation is done, the client is happy and shaking your colleague’s hand, exclaiming at how brilliant the idea is, while your boss is asking you to email everyone the meeting notes. 

I mean, the goal was to get the client on board, which you achieved, but at what expense? Suddenly no one lets you finish speaking your thoughts, making increasingly frustrated at being overlooked with each passing work day. 

When you feel unheard in the workplace, you may become unable to express your ideas, which can hinder your success. If you keep being interrupted when voicing your ideas, people at work won’t see you as an impactful contributor, and this can quickly harm your career. However, there is an easy way to combat this through assertive communication, which you can use to make your voice heard so you can be respected and valued.


Read also: What to do when someone takes credit for your work


Defining assertive communication in the workplace

Assertiveness is a means of communicating in the workplace to ensure your success. It is a powerful tool for any professional that allows you to effectively communicate your skills, beliefs, and ideas with others appropriately and diplomatically. This will help you avoid engaging in damaging workplace behaviours that can be harmful to your workplace relationships. 

Assertive communication helps you gain respect from your colleagues and supervisors while demonstrating that you're a capable and confident communicator. It also enables you to establish clear professional boundaries. However, communication is not just about getting your point across; it also involves active listening for productive interactions. 

As a manager or a leader, assertiveness can help you deal with challenging behaviour from your team members and progress through the organization since it is one of the critical characteristics of successful leadership. Being assertive at work shows that you are sure of what you want and willing to go after it. This priceless communication skill helps you manage situations, people, and your life confidently. 


Assertiveness vs. Aggressiveness

Think about someone in your life whom you consider assertive. You’ve probably pictured someone who is somewhat aggressive in their communication approach. Now I bet you think this means you should be more like them. After all, we’ve been told that if you want something badly enough, you must be aggressive in going for it. I promise you this is not what I mean by assertiveness. They are two sides of the same coin. 

I’ll give a personal example. 

When I was in primary school, my mum was my class teacher. There was a particular boy in our upper primary class who was very smart and outspoken, and whenever mother dearest would ask a question during lessons, he would shout out the answers so no one else would get a chance to do so. My mum once asked me to be a bit more aggressive in class like him, so what did I do? I also started shouting out answers to beat him to the punch. 

Unfortunately, this was not very productive because it didn’t give anyone else a chance to answer questions in class. Not one of my proudest moments. That same evening when we got home from school, my mum told me she didn’t mean I should use his exact approach - she simply wanted me to engage more in class while giving others the space to participate.

Herein lies the distinct difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness. Being assertive at work is about being honest and open about what you need or want while being considerate of other people's wants and needs. It entails using your confidence to tell others what you require in an empathetic, fair, and firm way. 

On the other hand, when you are aggressive, you only do what is right for yourself without thinking about others’ desires, feelings, needs, or rights. Usually, when someone is aggressive, it is for selfish reasons, and they come across as bullies or pushy. There is a time and place for aggressiveness. Maybe in an apocalypse when there are limited resources and the zombies are hot on your heels (and even then, there’s a moral line to consider), but not in the workplace. 

Now that you know where the problem and the solution lie, how do you employ your communication skills to become more assertive at work? You’ll need to switch up your communication style from passive to assertive. These are the skills you’ll need to have to achieve that:

1. Empathy

You must apply empathy to be more assertive at work. This means trying to recognize and understand how others observe the same situation. After considering the other person’s perspective within the situation you’re in, you can ask for what you need. 


Read also: What is emotional intelligence? 


2. Escalation

After practising your assertiveness and successfully employing it in different situations, you can start being firmer when people cross your boundaries. When you have experience being assertive at work, you can be firm in asking for what you need without being rude or resorting to bullying. 

3. Asking for more time

Having assertive communication skills also involves knowing when it is best to speak your mind. This is one of my go-to approaches for dicey situations or interactions when it’s best to avoid saying anything immediately. You can do this for several reasons - maybe you’re still unsure of what you want or feel too emotional at that point. It’s okay to tell the other person that you need more time to put your thoughts together, whether 10 minutes, an hour or a day (of course, time is still of the essence). 

4. Repetition

Try preparing what you want to say before the conversation or situation (this is another personal favourite). If people do not understand what you are saying or keep trying to pressure you to do something you don’t want to, then repeat yourself without giving up. Eventually, they will understand that you mean what you say. This technique will protect you from anyone who’s trying to exploit you. However, don’t use this method to bully others. 

5. Using the right verbs

When using assertive language, you’ll also need to change your verbs. It looks like those English lessons will come in handy after all. Use more definite verbs when communicating, such as the following: 

  • “Choose to” instead of “have to” 

  • “Want” instead of “need”

  • “Will” instead of “should” or “could”

Small changes in your language will convey your message clearly instead of always sugar-coating your thoughts. When you sugarcoat what you actually want to say, it confuses people about what you want from them. 

So now, let’s see how you can apply these skills in real-life situations.

Keep your face friendly and open

If you want to seem welcoming and open, maintain direct eye contact with whomever you’re speaking to. This makes them feel like you’re directly addressing them and more likely to pay attention to what you’re saying. Also, remember to smile and maintain a  firm yet kind expression. 

Use open and relaxed body language

Your body also conveys emotion and gives people a clue about how you feel, even without you saying anything. Showing assertiveness through your body language is about being open and relaxed. Be considerate of others’ personal space, use calm hand gestures, and stand upright. 

Use a firm and calm tone of voice when delivering your point 

Assertive people are calm, confident, and clear in their delivery, whatever the situation. As you’re getting your point across, do it in a non-accusatory and well-paced manner to avoid conflict and interruptions. 

Suppose someone cuts you off while speaking, remain calm and keep cool. Say the person’s name with a positive tone, which will get them to stop talking immediately. Continue to say how you appreciate the insight and that you’re glad they agree with you but that you want to finish your thought. See how we used “want” instead of “would like”?

This approach allows you to reclaim the floor without doing anything to alienate the room by seeming hostile. Other go-to phrases you can use include: “I was 75% done with my thought” or “before we move on, let me finish my thought.”

Owning the conversation

If you’re making a presentation, set your expectations up front to avoid being talked over. You can do this by clarifying at the beginning that you will hear everyone’s questions at the end. However, if your boss or the client you’re presenting to interrupts, switch to what they asked about so you can meet their agenda. You can respond by saying something like: “I was going to get to that shortly, but I’m happy to do that now” or “I’m glad you asked about that, let’s jump to that part of the presentation.”

Help others have a voice at work

Being assertive at work is not just about ensuring you have a voice; it is about ensuring others do too. If you notice someone getting interrupted, you can explain that it would be helpful and productive for the team to hear that person’s complete thoughts. You can also ask specific questions during meetings to encourage people to give their input and speak up comfortably. For example, “What point of view haven’t we considered?” or “Who haven’t we heard from yet?” This opens up the dialogue and makes people more likely to voice their opinions and ideas. 


Read also: Necessary communication skills for a successful career 



You see, assertive communication skills are powerful tools to have in your belt. Some people are naturally assertive, while others need extra help in that department.  All it takes is practice and time; sooner or later, you’ll be more assertive at work to express your needs, ideas, and feelings to others clearly, confidently, and respectfully. 

Written by

Sandra Musonge

Sandra Musonge is a part-time writer at Fuzu with over five years of experience under her belt, helping numerous B2B and B2C clients with their content needs. She writes to inspire and not just to inform. Her educational background in Biochemistry has given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. You can find her enjoying nature or trying out new recipes when she isn't writing.

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