8 ways to be assertive with people without coming across as rude or arrogant

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You’ve likely noticed there’s a huge difference between someone who’s valued for their no-nonsense, direct approach and someone who’s simply considered a rude jerk.

But can you put your finger on what makes these two types of people so different?

Here are 8 ways that people can be assertive and direct without coming across as rude:

1. Use humor.

This is undoubtedly one of the best and most important ways that a person can be direct without being considered rude.

Saying something with ‘a bit of honey’ usually takes the sting out of words, especially when it’s delivered in a cheeky or playful manner.

This works especially well when dealing with someone who tends to get angry or defensive if they’re called out on their behavior.

I’ve used it to good effect with children who have ended up giggling cheekily instead of howling with dismay, as well as with colleagues and housemates.

Let’s say you have a coworker who’s constantly interrupting you during meetings. You can address their actions by jokily thanking them for the effort they put into finishing your sentences for you like they’re your personal mind reader.

It’s a light-hearted approach that will hopefully curb their behavior in the future without causing too much friction. You haven’t been rude, simply firm, and assertive in a playful fashion.

Note that using humor won’t necessarily work with everyone though.

People who are fragile, sensitive, or short-tempered can take offense at the slightest provocation, especially when they know they’ve made a mistake and don’t want to admit it.

2. Deliver a sh!t sandwich.

This approach is similar to the one above, and they’re often used in tandem.

Essentially, you’re delivering potentially upsetting or critical information in between niceties and compliments at the beginning and end of the conversation.

As such, you’re ‘sandwiching’ a bit of unpleasantness between two pleasant layers.

And if you can keep that middle layer humorous it may take the sting out of it even more.

Let’s say you’re dealing with a housemate who’s been making a decent effort to keep the place clean, but keeps falling short in one or two areas.

You could say something like:

“Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been really keeping on top of the washing up. The kitchen is looking super tidy and I really appreciate it.

Since we’re both aiming to keep this place as clean as possible, it would be great if you didn’t clip your toenails on the kitchen table. Thanks!

Oh, and thank you for cleaning out the fridge—it looks amazing in there!”

An approach like this recognizes the other person’s initiative and effort, while also squeezing in something they could improve upon.

This way, although there is criticism involved, it isn’t the main point of this discussion. The positive opening and ending outnumber the ‘negative’ feedback in the middle.

3. Lead by example.

This is particularly effective in the workplace, but it can also be used to good effect in domestic situations.

For example, if you work with a lot of people who gossip or stand around making endless coffees or snacking when there’s work to be done, ensure you don’t share in their behavioral patterns.

Don’t join in with their chatter, and if you do go to the break room to grab a sandwich from the fridge, make the process as quick and efficient as possible. Then get back to your duties and perform them diligently.

Some of your coworkers will inevitably ask you why you’re being such a buzzkill, acting way too seriously instead of socializing.

They’ll usually do this in a scoffing fashion as though you’re the one who’s behaving inappropriately. When this happens, simply reply politely with the obvious response: “I’m just doing what I’m being paid to do.”

This is directness without rudeness and will make it abundantly clear to them that it’s their behaviors that are subpar, without you specifically calling attention to or criticizing them.

You might not make close friends with these people, but they may end up following your example and being a little more efficient instead of just goofing off all the time.

4. Keep it calm and polite.

Rudeness often occurs when people’s emotions take the reins, and thus they lose control of their composure.

We all get upset at times, but people who raise their voices and start yelling or swearing will be respected and listened to far less than those who maintain their calm and dignity in even the most trying of circumstances.

People respond to our energy as much as they do to our words, if not more.

The energy we exude affects others on a subconscious level. If you’re projecting anger or rudeness through your every pore, that’ll come through even though the words you speak are technically polite.

Your sour feelings will manifest in your body language, verbal tone, facial expressions, etc.

The way you move and hold yourself can mean the difference between being polite yet assertive or being rude and aggressive.

For example, holding a firm, upright posture and speaking to people at a polite distance shows personal strength and assertiveness, without implying aggression towards them.

Compare this to someone who gets right up into someone else’s personal space, or leans over them in a menacing, intimidating fashion.

Showing respect for others’ space tells them that you’re treating them as equals instead of trying to beat them down, even if you’re addressing a difficult topic or behavior.

5. Choose your timing.

There are appropriate and inappropriate times to have discussions, especially difficult ones.

As such, choosing the right time to have said conversations can mean the difference between being perceived as a respectable, assertive person versus being seen as a rude bastard.

Before bringing up a difficult topic with a person, determine where they are mentally, physically, and emotionally.

For instance, don’t interrupt your spouse with the dreaded words, “We need to talk” when they’re rushing to the washroom early in the morning, and avoid trying to have a serious discussion with your teenage kid when they’re in the middle of an intense gaming session.

It’s just as important to check in with yourself before having a difficult conversation with someone.

If you’re irritable from lack of sleep or ‘hangry’ because you haven’t had lunch yet, you may be more curt or scathing with your words than you want to be.

Ensure you’re functioning at the best level possible before engaging, and you’ll have a much better shot at being firm and clear rather than rude and hostile.

6. Be firm without going on the attack.

This one is particularly important when asserting or defending personal boundaries.

We all have boundaries, and many of us may feel the urge to be hostile, rude, or even cruel when they are overstepped.

The problem here is that when we’re emotional or rude about defending our boundaries, the people we’re interacting with can easily dismiss us as being irrational or overdramatic.

As such, they won’t be inclined to respect those boundaries in the future, and they may even make a point of overstepping them again to get a reaction out of us.

As such, when someone oversteps a boundary you’ve set, be firm about their unacceptable behavior.

If this is a first transgression, you can simply re-establish that this isn’t okay and that they shouldn’t do it again.

In contrast, if it’s happened more than once, remain calm but make it known that there’s a consequence to disrespecting and overstepping your boundaries.

They’ll inevitably try to backpedal and make excuses to avoid being punished, at which point you should remain firm and hold fast.

This type of behavior is common in children and adolescents who are trying to see how much they can get away with, but it can also happen with partners, or within dysfunctional family dynamics.

Some people will push their limits and then cry foul when they’re faced with the consequences of their actions. They may get abusive or emotional, but don’t let their reactions affect you. Remain firm and stoic, and they’ll soon learn.

7. Use “I” rather than “you” statements.

When having discussions with others, using “you” statements can be seen as antagonistic.

People naturally get defensive (or offended) when they feel they’re being attacked.

In contrast, if you use “I” statements, they’re more likely to attempt to be empathetic, and more willing to try and improve the situation.

For example, let’s say that you’ve been putting in a ton of effort around the house and your spouse doesn’t seem to appreciate your actions.

Furthermore, not only are they not acknowledging all that you’re doing—they’re even undoing some of your work by being careless or oblivious.

If you say something like: “You’re disrespecting me by leaving your dishes in the sink for me to wash like I’m your servant”, they’ll almost certainly see that as an attack and will likely lash out in defense.

In contrast, try saying something like: “I feel hurt and unappreciated when I work hard to keep the kitchen clean, and you don’t do your part to do the same.”

This emphasizes your feelings (e.g. how they’re making you feel) rather than highlighting their behavior. As such, they’ll hopefully try harder to be more respectful and appreciative of your hard work.

8. Show self-restraint and self-respect.

p>One way that countless people undermine their position is by being petty, for example, by seeking to ‘win’ an argument or insisting upon having the last word.

Few things lose respect quicker than if a person calls back over their shoulder after a heated exchange to get one final word or phrase in before running off.

It’s incredibly childish behavior and at its core is the polar opposite of assertiveness.

Essentially, it’s a coward’s technique to get a personal ‘win’ at the expense of self-respect and dignity.

If you’re dealing with someone who’s being belligerent, return to tip #1 and respond to their histrionics with quiet bemusement.

Once they’ve finished spouting off, you can ask if they’ve quite finished. At this point, they’ll likely swear or insult you and stomp off.

Let them.

Don’t stoop to their level with rude insults or pithy comebacks, instead maintain your stance and hold it with assertive grace.

About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.