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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Become More Assertive at Work

Dear Sue: I am too meek, and am looking for ways to become more forceful at work.

 - Meek

Sue Says: Your choice of words has thrown me. I believe I understand the intent of your question, but I am not sure that becoming more forceful is the answer. Forcing opinions, ideas or desires on others rarely works, and is not a positive thing to do.

It is important to appear self-assured and to speak up; if you have an opinion, you should express it; when you have an issue with someone you should deal with it, and when you want something, you should go for it. You probably need to work on becoming more assertive.

Think of people you know who have the traits you desire, and pay attention to their style and manner. You can learn a lot by observing others.

Conduct a self-inventory: In what ways do you think you appear meek?

  • Do you carry yourself apologetically or confidently?
  • Do you have good posture? do you stand up straight and hold your head high?
  • Do you look at people when in conversation and make eye contact?
  • Do you speak up when you have something to say and speak audibly, but not too softly?
  • Do you ask questions or make requests when you need to?
  • Do you wear clothing that supports your desired intention? Darker colors and simple styles convey strength; Lighter colors and frilly styles soften an image.

There are many factors that impact the way you are perceived. Once you identify specific areas to focus on, you can begin to make changes and become the person you want to be.

Dear Sue: I work for a small company that is run by a mother and her daughter. The daughter has caused a terribly hostile work environment, and previous employees have left because of her.

Leaving is not an option for me. I would like to present the mother with some proof of her daughter's behavior and inform her that she cannot continue to treat people in this way, but donít know how to go about it. Please help.

Ė Bridget

Sue Says: Talking with the mother may not get you the results you want; the mother may be aware of her daughter's behavior yet chose to do nothing about it. If you complain to the mother, she may side with and support her daughter. Furthermore, it is not clear who has the upper hand; the mother may have little if any control over her daughter's behavior.

You donít have many other options; you can talk with both of them together or directly with the daughter. I agree with you that having proof is important. If you havenít already, document each incident in writing as this will be important if and when you decide to make any type of formal complaint.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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