How to Be Assertive

You need to call the doctor for pain medication for a patient but for whatever reason the doctor on duty makes you nervous. Your patient needs you but you’re nervous and aren’t so sure of yourself. What do you do?

You need to employ a little technique called assertiveness. Remember though, there’s a distinct difference between being assertive and being aggressive. What’s the difference and how can you become more assertive when you feel anything-but? Here are a few helpful tips to get you started on the road to respect.

Tip One – Be Confident But Not Pushy

When you approach people, you need to have confidence in yourself. Whether it is a difficult doctor or a hurting patient, you have to have the confidence in yourself and your ability to speak your mind. You can’t shrink from confrontation, because so much of nursing is about talking to people. You have to be able to get your opinion across and let the other person know what you want. You have to have enough confidence to know that what you are asking for is a legitimate need for your patient.


The problem with this side of assertiveness is when people become a know-it-all bully. When you are constantly pushing your thoughts and opinions on other people, you are more of a steam-roller than a team player. It is a difficult balance to achieve when you need to speak your mind as a nurse. Furthermore, if you have a strong personality, toning back your speech to listen to others is even more difficult. Assertiveness does not mean you dominate. It means you speak your mind and work with other people.

Tip Two – Listen, Don’t Pretend to Hear

When you are in crisis mode, it’s easy to ignore what the other person is saying. You need your opinion to be heard and this might mean that you don’t listen to the opinions or thoughts of others. The problem with this is that you might be wrong. As hard as it is for you to admit, you may not know best. You have to listen to your patient or the doctor to collaboratively make a decision.

Assertiveness isn’t about getting your way all the time and bullying someone into seeing your point of view; it is about striving to understand the point of view the other person has and examining your own thoughts to reach a win-win result. You need to listen to be assertive and be an active participant in the conversation or at the very least, to make good return arguments. Listening is the only way you are going to get the best care for your patient.

Tip Three – Be Clear, Not Confused

In addition to confidence and listening, you need to be able to make yourself understood. Before calling a doctor, gather your information and have it clear in your head. If you get on the phone with the doctor before you have fully formed in your mind what you are going to say, you won’t be able to push them for what you need. You will end up wasting their time and yours, and you won’t help the patient by not really knowing what you need. You need the confidence to clearly state the patient’s troubles, as well as your needs from the doctor.

With patients, clarity is even more important. They can often be scared and confused, in a strange place and medical jargon is thrown at them left, right and centre. Nurses act like a ‘medical translator’. We have to dissect what the doctor said and repackage it in understandable terms for the patient. Again, it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to say about the patient’s condition. Take a moment to gather your thoughts so that you can clearly explain open heart surgery, for instance. Most people won’t understand, but it is through clear, assertive communication that you can help allay your patient’s fears.

Document this CPD


Social Isolation in Barrier Nursing
Day Five: Safety and Chemotherapy
When You’re Forced To Stay At Work