Many people could benefit from being more assertive, not just in the workplace, but in every aspect of their lives.

If you work on the doors and you’ve ever had a patron deliberately ignore your verbal requests, or you feel that you’re simply not being given the proper respect in any setting, chances are you need to be more assertive.

Often, people who lack assertiveness are dealing with personal issues (for example, low self-esteem, overbearing parents or emotional scars from childhood bullying). We won’t pretend that an Internet article will fix all your problems, but we can promise to offer tried and tested advice and techniques that work in real-world situations. It will be, we hope, a positive first step on a journey that can change your life.

In this guide, we’ll set you on the path to being more assertive and subsequently more respected by everyone you encounter.

What do we Mean by ‘Being Assertive’?

The dictionary definition of ‘assertive’ is “having or showing a confident and forceful personality”. This is accurate, but also a little misleading. The truly assertive person should rarely have a need to be forceful, as they will usually be able to get what they want simply by asking for it.

Assertiveness is a key life skill that is highly prized in any profession but is especially useful for those in jobs that require them to interact with the general public.

For security operatives, especially door supervisors, developing a greater degree of assertiveness is a must, not only because it can lessen the amount of conflict you encounter (and thus keep you safer), but also because it can help you to take charge in emergency situations, communicate better with patrons and also advance in your career.

Assertiveness should not be confused with aggressiveness. Aggression is usually selfish and aimed at getting what you want by any means, including intimidation and even physical violence. Assertiveness, by contrast, is much more balanced. It’s about clearly and concisely communicating your own wants and needs, while also respecting those of others.

Let’s say that a hypothetical shift worker (call her ‘Karen’) has booked a day off to spend with her mother (something they’ve been trying to do for ages), but her boss (‘Dan’) calls and asks her to work. If Karen’s contract does not specifically require her to work whenever she’s called in, it is Karen’s choice whether she picks up the shift or not.

Dan phones Karen and asks her to come in. ‘Passive Karen’ simply responds with “yes, Dan” and then sadly phones her mother to cancel their plans, again.

However, ‘Assertive Karen’ understands that it is her choice, not Dan’s. She weighs up the ‘pros and ‘cons’ of whether to go in or not and makes her decision accordingly.

If Karen declines Dan’s request, he may try to convince her or (if he’s the aggressive type) ‘strong-arm’ her into doing what he wants. ‘Assertive Karen’ sticks to her guns and firmly, but politely, says ‘no’, telling him, “I’m sorry, I have plans with my mother. I can’t help you right now. I’ll see you on Monday”

At that point, Dan really has no choice but to look elsewhere. He could argue, but he’d be wasting his time, Karen’s mind is clearly made up.

Imagine a simple scale. On the left-hand side is passivity and on the right is aggression. The exact middle of this scale is assertiveness.

Sometimes people react negatively to assertiveness, especially if the person being assertive is usually passive. Sadly, there is a well-documented tendency for assertive women to be considered ‘rude’, ‘pushy’ or ‘unfeminine’ by men. However, a truly assertive person will not bow before such pressure and will continue to articulate their needs firmly, politely and considerately.

Consider the fictitious example of Karen and Dan and how it might apply to incidents from your own experience, both on the doors and elsewhere.

Benefits of Being More Assertive

Assertiveness can have several benefits, both inner and outer. For one, it can greatly improve your mental health, as you will begin to feel more respected, confident, and listened to. It can also greatly enhance your career prospects.

Passive and aggressive communication can both be frustrating, not to mention highly destructive to relationships. A person that is too passive will often end up being brow-beaten by others, or else simply ‘talked over’ to the point that their right to speak is ignored. This can lead to further loss of confidence, as well as low self-esteem and even depression. Overly passive people usually fail to distinguish themselves in the workplace, despite often having exemplary records in their respective positions.

Aggressive communicators are also not looked upon too fondly at work. An aggressive communicator will often interrupt or raise their voice over others, as well as rush them to their point with scattershot repetitions of “yeah, yeah, yeah, OK” or similar. This can make them appear to be dismissive and uncaring.

Aggressive communicators also tend to insinuate themselves into every aspect of a discussion, whether it’s warranted or not. Aggressive communicators can be similarly overlooked in the workplace, partly because management often doesn’t feel listened to by them and partly because they are often very unpopular socially.

Accordingly, an assertive person will be less likely to suffer from the low self-esteem and tendency to ‘disappear into the background’ that a passive person may experience, but they will also be more popular and respected than the aggressive communicator, as people who speak to them will feel respected and listened to.

An assertive person is less likely to be ‘brushed off’ than a passive or aggressive person. In customer service, passive customers are often ignored or met with small, ‘token’ gestures, while aggressive customers are ‘handled’ or else simply turned away. The assertive customer is the one who gets that refund, replacement, and/or formal apology with minimal effort.

In relationships, assertive people are vastly more likely to attract a partner who treats them with equality and respect. Both passive and aggressive people are more likely to find themselves in one-sided relationships (in fact, they usually end up attracting one another).

From the perspective of security work, passivity simply doesn’t get the job done, while aggressiveness can get you fired. No patron feels protected by a simpering wimp on the door, while an aggressive meathead is likely only to attract people that are looking for trouble and deter decent customers in the process.

Passive door supervisors will be too timid, allowing situations and people to escalate further than is necessary and can end up endangering themselves and others in the process, while aggressive door supervisors put people on the defensive and show no respect to the patrons in their care.

So, if a young male/female couple is being asked to leave for whatever reason and the aggressive DS emasculates the young man by barking orders at him and throwing his weight around, the boyfriend may try to ‘save face’ by becoming aggressive in return.

In the same example, the passive DS puts up with too much disrespect from the young patron, which emboldens him to continue to be abusive and worsens the situation overall.

The assertive DS, on the other hand, comes across as considerate and calm, but also respectful. They won’t be able to entirely avoid violence, but by being less timid or less aggressive (whichever they are more prone to), they will command more respect and generate a greater degree of goodwill and trust.

An assertive door supervisor is therefore less likely to be attacked or abused, partly because they are more likely to be understood and listened to.  

So, as you can hopefully see, assertiveness can be a passport to a less stressful, more successful, life.

Assertiveness Begins Within

If you wish to become more assertive, the process can begin immediately. The first thing to do is to be clear in your own mind about what you’re asking for or want to convey. You might have the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t sound like you believe in them, why should anybody else?

You should get really clear in your mind before you open your mouth. Understand exactly what you want and why you want it.

When you truly understand something, it becomes far easier to articulate. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman used to say, “if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

To use an example from popular culture, take a look at Chidi Anagonye from TV’s ‘The Good Place’. Chidi is by far the smartest character in the show, but his crippling indecisiveness makes him a poor communicator. He only communicates ably when he is relaying the ideas of others, but he cannot get his own ideas across effectively because he is constantly second-guessing himself.

By contrast, the character of Jason Mendoza, who is, essentially, a good-hearted moron, confidently speaks his mind at all times. Although his suggestions are frequently absurd and/or dangerous, he displays a lot more confidence than Chidi and is more often listened to as a result.

So, know what you want and why you want it before you ask for it. This will help you to speak more clearly and to communicate your desires more effectively – a must when working the doors.

Take Your Thought to Court

Unassertive thinking is unhelpful in many ways. Thoughts such as, ‘I’d better keep how I’m feeling to myself’, ‘I have to do what this person says, I don’t have a choice’, ‘I don’t want to upset this person, so I’d better keep quiet’, ‘explaining what I want is selfish’ and ‘emotional honesty is a weakness or vulnerability’ are all examples of unassertive thoughts.

A lot of these thoughts are based around assumptions that we have developed about the world and our place in it, usually during childhood or adolescence. These assumptions eventually crystallise (usually we have mentally gathered a wealth of anecdotal ‘evidence’ to support them) to become firmly held personal beliefs.

When you find yourself thinking one of these unhelpful thoughts, ask yourself why you may be thinking it. The answers will often surprise you by how illogical and/or rooted in childhood memories they are. If this is the case, challenge the belief, as the saying goes ‘take your thought to court’ and decide if it helps you or not. If it doesn’t, try to replace it with a positive affirmation instead.

It can be difficult to challenge such beliefs, but challenge them we must if we are to pull these unhelpful thoughts out at the root and become more assertive.

Discussing methods for combating negative self-belief is a subject for another time (and, possibly, a different website entirely), but there is a lot of help in the links provided throughout this article. It is also possible to self-refer for therapy on the NHS, which can really help to boost your self-esteem and confidence in general.

In 1975, psychologist Dr. Manuel Smith published the bookWhen I Say No, I Feel Guilty, which became a worldwide best seller. In the book, Smith outlines an ‘assertive bill of rights’, in which he states that:

“You have the right to judge your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

You have the right to say “no”.

You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behaviour.

You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.

You have the right to change your mind.

You have the right to disagree with someone’s opinion.

You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them.

You have the right to say, ‘I don’t know’.

You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.

You have the right to say, ‘I don’t understand’.

You have the right to say, ‘I don’t care’”

Read through the list, paying special attention to how much you agree or disagree with these rights. The ones you have an emotional reaction to (be it positive or negative) will help you to determine the areas wherein you might need to do some work. How many of these ‘rights’ directly affect you while at work?

The Power of ‘I’

Assertiveness and clarity go hand-in-hand, just as you must cultivate clarity within, you must also practice it without. Unconfident people often either speak too much or too little. Neither option is good. People who talk too much get ignored because they have too much to say and their message gets buried beneath the diatribe, while people who don’t speak enough often miss their chance to put their ideas and views across.

One thing to avoid is blanket statements. While putting your opinions across as fact can be a powerful persuasive tool (especially if you happen to be a politician), it is always a divisive and polarising tactic. In one-on-one conversations, it is always better to use ‘I’ statements.

Beginning with “I think” or “I feel” or “I find” is much better than simply stating your opinion as an incontrovertible fact. Let’s say that Karen from earlier goes to see a movie with her partner (let’s call her ‘Julie’). As they leave the cinema, Karen says “that movie was rubbish”, while Julie says “You’re wrong. It was awesome!”

What we have here are two conflicting opinions, both masquerading as fact. If both women are passionate in their beliefs, this is literally a recipe for an argument, because both ‘facts’ can’t be right – and thus, a peaceful agreement is basically impossible.

Let’s replay the scene again. Now, Karen comes out of the cinema and says, “I thought that movie was rubbish”. Julie can still argue her point, but it’s no longer ‘fact vs. fact’. Karen has given her opinion, nothing more. After this, Julie is more likely to respond personally as well, maybe saying “Well I thought it was awesome!” Nobody is confusing opinion with fact and, in a healthy relationship, this can lead to playful banter or an interesting conversation instead of a fight.

‘I’ statements reduce tension, as well as allowing you to express your own needs and desires more adequately. An ‘I’ statement clearly marks the statement as somebody’s opinion, as opposed to a statement of fact. Accordingly, people with differing viewpoints will be more likely to ask for your reasoning and actually listen to it, rather than simply trying to defeat (or ‘shout down’) your argument.

It also helps to make sure that your ‘I’ statements accommodate the viewpoints of others. Without this aspect, a person can appear to be very self-involved and uncaring.

If we return to the example of Karen and her boss, Dan, Karen might say “I can appreciate your predicament, but I promised my mother that we’d spend the day together and I’ve already cancelled on her twice. It wouldn’t be fair”

Statements like, “I understand your point-of-view” or “I know you’re busy right now” help to ensure that you aren’t simply ignoring other people’s needs, wants and perspectives. ‘I’ statements can be very useful for the door supervisor looking to turn somebody away without upsetting or angering them too much.

Assertiveness Techniques

In addition to the mental and verbal techniques recommended above, there are a number of other assertiveness techniques you can employ.

‘Discrepancy assertion’, for example, occurs when a person politely draws someone’s attention to a perceived discrepancy between their words and actions.

So, when Dan asks Tracy to come in on her day off, she might say, “Dan, just last week you told me that I deserved a rest and should take a few days off, now you’re calling me back into work”

This should be done without bitterness or recrimination, just as a statement of fact. In this example, Dan told Tracy that she needed to rest, but then tried to take that rest away as soon as he needed something. Tracy is simply reminding him that his words and his deeds are misaligned in this regard.

If Tracy is upset (let’s say that Dan has done this several times before and she has acquiesced, cancelling her plans), she may utilise what is known as ‘negative feelings’ assertion. In this technique, Tracy is letting Dan know that his actions are upsetting her and causing emotional distress, without reacting negatively towards him. She might say,

“Dan, when you call me in to work on my days off, it puts me in a difficult position. I know you need someone to come in, but I booked this day off weeks ago and I’ve already cancelled on my mother twice. Now I’ll feel guilty whatever I do”

Remember, assertiveness is about making sure that your own needs, opinions and desires are heard and respected, which won’t happen if you don’t articulate them effectively.

Dan may have no idea that he’s putting Tracy under so much pressure. It could be that he asks her first because she always says yes. However, she might agree to the extra work out of guilt, or a sense of duty, rather than a genuine desire to help Dan and/or earn extra money. In many cases, until you tell someone that they are putting too much pressure on you or acting unfairly towards you, they may not know.

In some cases, persistence pays off. Dan may continue to work on Tracy, even after she initially says no. In this case, Tracy’s resolve may weaken, but she must ‘stick to her guns’ if she wishes to be more assertive, as well as keep her day off.

Tracy may also find that she needs to practice perseverance in her private life. Let’s say that the phone company has overcharged Tracy and taken the extra money from her bank. She phones the company, but, while they acknowledge the mistake, they only offer to refund her in ‘phone minutes’, when Tracy needs the extra money back in her account.

Passive Tracy would simply put the phone down, having been defeated and then borrow the money from someone else. Aggressive Tracy would erupt angrily, call the person on the end of the phone a thief and end up being disconnected.

Assertive Tracy, on the other hand, can calmly, but firmly, ask to speak to a manager. The person on the phone may then place Tracy on hold for an extended period, or even ‘accidentally’ disconnect the call, but Assertive Tracy will simply keep calling back and continue peacefully escalating the issue until the money is returned.

Here, ‘consequence assertion’ comes into play. Consequence assertion basically involves presenting, in a clear and calm manner, the consequences of a person’s continued actions. So, if the phone company representative is unhelpful, Assertive Tracy may say, “if you can’t help me, then I’ll have to speak to your manager. I’d sooner handle the issue without making any complaints, but if you won’t help me do that, I’ll be left with no choice”. This, in turn, may cause the rep to take her requests more seriously.

Tracy may end up saying something to the manager like “If I have no other option, I will have to make a formal complaint to your head office. I’d prefer not to, but that all depends on whether or not you can refund me today”. You may be surprised by how often this works.

Passive Tracy cancelled her plans yet again, resented her boss for brow-beating her, but said nothing about it, then let the phone company take money that wasn’t theirs to take.

Assertive Tracy got her day off, gave Dan something to think about regarding how he treats his employees and got her money back from the phone company, along with an apology and the promise that such an oversight would not happen again.

Physical assertiveness techniques involve maintaining eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking. Eye contact is very important. Humans with something to hide very often avoid eye contact, as do those experiencing shame, guilt, fear or nervousness.

Full and complete eye contact demonstrates that you are clear about your feelings, as well as that you are confident and telling the truth. It is also one way to show respect to the other person and demonstrate that you are listening to them.

Practice active listening, stand up straight and keep your body language open. We’ve detailed techniques for this elsewhere on the site, so take a look if you need a few pointers.

It is also important that you reduce your physical tension in order to remain calm. We’ve talked elsewhere about calming techniques you can use in order to make sure you don’t unintentionally cross the border from ‘assertive’ to ‘aggressive’.

Not all of these techniques will be useful to security operatives in their professional lives, but all are useful in our personal lives.

How to Say ‘No’

A big part of being assertive is saying ‘no’. Despite this being a simple two-letter word, it can be one of the hardest words to actually say.

People’s resistance to saying no often comes from a desire not to disappoint or displease others. Sometimes it comes from fear or a simple desire to avoid confrontation. However, saying no (and standing behind that answer) is an important part of being an assertive person, as well as an effective door supervisor.

People who don’t say no often enough will likely find themselves resenting the people that they constantly say yes to. They will agree to do more work than they can reasonably take on and accept requests from friends and family that eventually grow to dominate their time.

If Julie’s family hosts a gathering of some kind every weekend – and Julie has trouble turning down these invitations, then Julie and Tracy will likely end up spending every weekend attending social functions that neither may wish to attend. This leads not only to Tracy resenting Julie slightly, but maybe even Julie resenting Tracy when Tracy finally decides to stay home and rest. Additionally, neither gets any real downtime, which means that both will be tired and grouchy, and their professional lives may also suffer as a result.

Simply saying no in a clear and final manner, can be considered rude and is not assertive, but aggressive. So, when Julie says “oh, we’re going to a barbeque at uncle Barney’s this Saturday” and Tracy simply responds with “no” or “I’m not”, this is just rude.

Correctly, Julie should not imply that Tracy must attend, but even if she does, Tracy should respond less curtly and more considerately, maybe by saying, “Julie, I know it’s important to you, but I’ve had a long week at work, and I just want a bit of downtime. I’m not going to go”

Julie might then be upset, but Tracy will have to continue to calmly stand her ground. She should be calm, polite, and honest.

When it comes to turning patrons away at the door, the art of saying no involves keeping it simple and not belabouring the point. The lengthier the explanation, the more it invites negotiation – and the harder it will be to enforce the no.

It’s also important not to apologise too much for saying no. “I’m sorry” can be construed by the other person as if you don’t really want to say no, which will encourage them to look for ways around your reasoning.

You should also take responsibility for your answer. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you” makes you sound defeated and passive. “I don’t want to” is a much more powerful statement.

There are many different ways of saying no. The ‘direct no’ involves simply saying no and refusing to elaborate on it, but this is quite aggressive, so we don’t recommend it except in circumstances where such directness is required or where other avenues have been exhausted.

The ‘reflecting no’ involves acknowledging the other person’s feelings, while continuing to keep the answer as ‘no’. “Julie, I know you want me to go to the barbeque, but I really don’t want to go”.

The ‘reasoned no’ allows you to give a brief explanation as to your reasons for saying no, while still maintaining that as the answer.

Other ways of saying no include the ‘no for now’ (essentially agreeing to comply with the request at another time), the negotiated no (wherein you say no, but try to find a compromise) and the ‘repetitive no’ (basically repeatedly saying no to multiple requests).

The art of saying no is crucial to door supervisors and security workers in general. A DS who can skilfully turn a patron away without upsetting them will always be in high demand – and YOU can be that DS.

The 3 ‘C’s

We are aware that we’ve thrown A LOT of information at you in this feature, so if you’re worried that you’ll have trouble remembering it all, break it down to a technique known as ‘the 3 C’s’. The 3 ‘Cs’ of assertive communication are:

Confidence, clarity, and control.

Confidence allows you to demonstrate enough faith in yourself and your training to fully believe that you can handle the situation, that your ideas and contributions are good and worthwhile and that your wants, needs and perspectives are just as valid as anybody else’s.

Clarity means that you communicate effectively, that your ideas are understood and that nobody is likely to misinterpret your viewpoints or suggestions. Your message is easy to understand.

Control allows you to deliver your information in a cool-headed and calm manner. Passive and aggressive people are ruled by emotion (passive people often feel fear, while aggressive people mainly feel anger and frustration). A controlled response allows a person to make their needs or desires known without becoming overly emotional in the process.

Taking the advice in this feature onboard will be of enormous benefit to anyone who works in any avenue of the security industry, but especially to those who work the doors.