4 mistakes and lessons to be more assertive and get what you want

Every one of us has specific milestones in life. Might it be to achieve a degree, to get the dream job, or build a business from scratch. To achieve these targets we often think of studying the material that underlines the discipline thoroughly will be enough. Think of Bill Gates or Elon Musk, who just know everything they need to know about their business, and if not they keep on studying.

But, what many people do not realize in time is the requirement for an assertive mindset.

Assertiveness can have negative associations such as being arrogant or selfish and of course, no one wants that. However, most individuals are far from being assertive and then wonder why it takes so long for them to achieve their goals although they do plenty of steps that should contribute to their progress.

For instance, I have a friend who was brilliant in school. She studied hard, she scored high. She wanted to be liked and played it always safe with people. And that was fatal to her success. People exploited her kindness, they used her and she won little or nothing by interacting with her colleagues. Until this day she has issues with setting clear borders and all her work might be brilliant, but it is not she who shines.

In order to prevent that and to nurture my mindset, I read a lot of books on these topics such as “Nice girls still don’t get the corner office” by Dr. Louis Franklin or “Don’t split the difference” by Chris Voss. I was astonished by the simple but profound mistakes people do. These mistakes as we call them are sometimes even habits. Habits that we developed without realizing. Habits that come from our environment such as parents and friends or books and series that we read and watch.

The combination of the 5-second rule from Mel Robbins with the views the authors give tackle four of the most important mistakes people make in business and life concerning the lack of assertiveness that I found.


Waiting to be given what you want

In the old saying: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” lies a relevant and more than ever temporal truth.

Only when one expresses one’s desires and needs can other people react to them and bring you closer to these. But, for some people the process falls apart at the first step: Expressing what they want.

There are several reasons for that:

Often people feel that they demand too much. They feel insecure about the right of this authorization. They feel that they would not be successful in the request anyway and just annoy others and therefore leave it finally. They don’t even attempt to raise the issue in any way. A concrete example could be asking for support to accomplish a task, a salary increase, or even a promotion. They wait it out in hope that whatever they wanted to ask for is being seen by e.g. superior managers or family members with luck and time.

Of course, sometimes hesitations of such claims are justified. However, when the potential gain of such an expression of desire is very high and the caused negative effects small then go for it by 5-4-3-2-1!

Don’t think too much of it, just do it. That is the 5-second rule by Mel Robbins:



Another reason why the expression of the request fails is the expression itself. Instead of making it clear what they want, they become nervous, speak a lot with vague words such as “maybe”, “one day” or start to mumble altogether. Another crucial feature is the transformation of statements into questions. With these characteristics, the speaker hopes to avoid any confrontation but puts the situation obviously on the path of failure.

The intensity of the wanted objective is not clear:


  • “When do I receive a salary increase?” is the start of a delay.
  • “I haven’t seen my salary increase, although I have accomplished XXX” is an observation and the start of a claim that is being heard.



Letting people waste your time


“Would you mind asking me a question about a process? Mirella is busy now.”

Like, I am not?


Your time is the most valuable asset you possess and if you have a very tight deadline, you have to protect your time to accomplish your priorities. That doesn’t mean that you should not help others or isolate yourself from the world. It means that you choose to do these tasks at another time. You have the right and the power to do so.

However, many people try to avoid conflict and confrontation. They don’t want to be seen as impolite. And many people, therefore, give in. It just takes 5 min, doesn’t it?

Having the habit of giving in or doing those small tasks in-between, distorts your focus on more crucial tasks, but also conditionalizes you of being a “crisis-manager”. Every small interruption is being seen as something very big and important, even if that is not the case. Your skill of assessing the priorities in your life or job is being contorted and blurred.

Although these kinds of acts can be returned by others and help to foster relationships, often people pay a high price for that by not negotiating the timing of the act.

Here, one has to set clear boundaries and learn how to convey to others one owns current position brief and direct, without coming off too sharp. Easy to say, but it takes a matter of practice and awareness. Some tips and tricks could include:


  • Distinguish the urgency of the need: Do they want to talk to you or do they really need to do so?
  • A short phrase to extend your leeway: “My apologies, I would like to talk further, however, I am on a tight deadline. How about we continue this conversation at XX.”
  • If you are waiting for more than 20min for a person – just leave. Your time is worth more than being filled up with nothing and a feeling of disappointment.
  • Communicate to others time slots where you are definitely not available or use a “Don’t disturb sign” at the door
  • If people walk into your office, don’t set down the pencil. Don’t stop what you were doing.


Here the book recommendation: Nice girls still don’t get the corner office


Taking full responsibility

In life, whatever it might be, you don’t get star stickers for running a project alone, but for getting the project done. Whatever this project might entail. It could be a task at work or something you have to do for your family like planning a vacation, but also a goal you have set for yourself. Usually, people just accept the task and “work it off”, like they learned to do it in school with exercises. One by one. In contrast to back then, some tasks are just more complex. They require time and energy, two of the most important resources you have, due to them not being recuperable. So, instead of doing everything and being overwhelmed with it, stop for a minute and think.

Can you somehow delegate these tasks, maybe even to a person who can get the job done more efficiently?

What are your resources available in the sense of in your network?

Who could help or knows someone who could help?

Do I have to reinvent the wheel? In most cases, NO. So, find these people and ask for their expertise.

For instance, at work, it is a usual phenomenon to be put into groups to accomplish something. But, if you are assigned a task alone by your boss, that does not translate into only you doing the work. If you require more resources, that is ok and natural. You can’t know everything. So, just look for your resources in your surroundings and you will be surprised by the abundance of possibilities.

The same could be with personal goals. Let’s assume you want to eat healthier and you live with a spouse together. Ask them to work with you on this goal. If they go shopping, they could buy the salad and not the chips, because maybe their willpower is stronger in that sense. You kind of delegate the responsibility of having more vegetables at home to them, because you know they are potentially more resistant to spontaneous purchases of sweets.

There are plenty of possibilities, just learn to seek them.



Reluctance to negotiate



As Chris Voss points out: negotiation is mission-crucial in life.

I can recommend anyone to read at least one book or engage in a course of negotiation because it determines an abundance of life’s outcomes, such as your salary/ position in a company, the satisfaction derived of relations to others, and therefore even your own well-being and happiness.

But, what is not mentioned in the video is the avoidance of negotiation by the majority of people. As in the example before, it is uncomfortable for most to confront others. Well and that is what it is about in negotiations in the broadest sense, right? First, it is about realizing the other’s point of view, seeing a difference in the opinions, and letting the two worlds clash. At least, that is what most people think. Maybe, people should start perceiving negotiations as less dramatic. While negotiating, one shows what one thinks to be entitled to. Sometimes, one shows clear values and principles underlying the subjective. One wants just to convey one’s thoughts and concerns and wants to be understood.

By being reluctant to negotiate, these important aspects of your life are being lost. It could be your salary, your feelings in a relationship, or a piece you wanted to buy on a market.

Negotiation is a learnable skill, therefore the following measure can be undertaken:



  • Gather information about the other side
  • Know your standpoint and your limits
  • Anticipate pushbacks from your counter partner
  • Have a plan B and know the other’s plan B
  • What is your best alternative if the agreement is not reached?
  • What is their best alternative?
  • Compare the two and see who has more leverage in the negotiation.


Practice the negotiation with a colleague or a friend and get their point of view.



Here the book recommendation: “Never split the difference” by Chris Voss



To receive the most out of this blog post, I recommend you to take one out of the four points where you felt the most guilty off and work on it. Set yourself a goal, create a plan, and execute!

Just one little improvement in your life could have an accumulated domino effect that could potentially lead to a better and more successful self. Being more assertive could be one of these small but leveraging changes you implement.

All the best with the goal that you set!





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