Becoming Professionally Assertive With Colleagues

Published On: 19 April 2023

Reading time 4 minutes

Effective communication is at the very heart of what we do to support those in our care. It’s important we all have the confidence to state our opinions, to make sure our voices are heard, and our opinions feed into discussions about the individuals we support.

This is not always simple to achieve. We work in often stressful environments, with a range of colleagues who may have different experiences and opinions. Heightened emotions and challenging situations can really test our working relationships. It can be particularly difficult to be assertive if we are new to our roles or an organisation, or if we’re working with someone in a senior position to us.

But our voices matter. Together, we have a far greater understanding of the individuals in our care than if we’re working in isolation trying to do our own thing. Being professionally confident with those we work alongside supports the overall culture of a setting and can have a positive impact on our entire organisation.

Shared Core Values

Nobody wants to work in an environment where they feel like they’re ignored or their opinions don’t matter. It can contribute to low morale and makes us less likely to work at our best. There’s no doubt that feeling listened to and valued is the foundation of a successful team.

Having a set of shared core values we all agree to is a good way to frame our work as professionals. These values describe how we would like to be treated and will treat others and underpin the ethos of our setting.

Having a Voice

Sometimes we need to make tough decisions in the interests of those in our care. Sometimes we have to have difficult conversations with our colleagues. Sometimes we have to speak up about a concern. In these challenging moments, we need to be confident in speaking up in an appropriate way that is conducted with professionalism.

When core values underpin the ethos of a setting, we can all feel that we have a safe platform to voice our opinions. It isn’t about being the most vocal, but having the confidence to speak openly without judgement. Keeping our core values at the centre of our practice can help us frame our thinking and conversations, so we’re always acting in the best interests of those in our care.

Modelling Behaviour

As well as modelling the behaviour we’d like to see from those in our care, our behaviour can model how we would like to be treated by our colleagues. Recognising how we present ourselves to others can help us be assertive when we see problems, have ideas about ways to improve things, or want to share important information.

We can consider the ways we communicate with others, such as our body language, posture, and the tonality of our voice. We can avoid a ‘square on’ stance where we stand directly in front of someone and instead use a sideways stance, leaving an open space for the person we’re speaking with to exit. Being aware of our body language can make situations more relaxed and less intimidating. We can also think about how we speak as much as what we are saying: reflecting on our volume, pace, showing empathy, and a genuine desire to listen as well as speak.

Difficult Conversations

There are times when we have to have tough conversations. These could be as a line manager, with somebody we work alongside, outside agencies, or with a parent or carer. Regardless of who the person is, it’s important that the experience ends positively; thoughts and feelings are validated and there are opportunities to move forward.  

It’s important that our message is clear for the person we are speaking with to understand; sometimes we do need to share something we know the person we’re speaking with will find difficult to hear. But we can do it in a way that is helpful, respectful and caring. We can also be curious, using phrases like “I’ve noticed,” “I wonder,” and “we have an opportunity to” rather than speaking in a way that seeks to blame.

A simple way to make difficult conversation easier is to think about the other conversations we have, when we aren’t raising a concern. Giving praise, showing gratitude, sharing successes should be a part of our everyday communication. This could be a simple, “thank you for today,” or “I appreciate that must have been difficult. You dealt with it really well.” When the time comes to having more difficult conservations, we have already laid the foundations of respect and appreciation.


Being professionally assertive is possible when we believe and advocate the core values and ethos of our settings in all that we do. As well as modelling positive behaviours to those in our care, we’re also encouraging our colleagues and ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves.

Regardless of our roles, knowing that we’ve got a voice and a means of sharing it helps us feel important and valued. Sharing our knowledge and experiences and having the confidence to act as a critical friend for a colleague means we can provide the best possible care.