Assertiveness whilst being polite

Today, I want to share a personal story with you. I was travelling to Nottingham last month and was getting on the train when I came across a young Mother and her two kids struggling with their luggage. Noticing that she was struggling with her case, I gave her a hand to get it onto the train and was helping to load it into the rack, when a guy shoved me from behind and said

“Will you hurry to f**k up – I just want to sit down already,”

Fortunately, I’m pretty tall and when I turned around I found myself looking at a short, middle-aged man who looked considerably less hassle than he’d sounded when I’d had my back turned. Turning fully around, I stood and glared down at him and found that he was suddenly greatly interested in the floor rather than meeting my eye.

As it turned out, myself, the young lady and her two children got the last four seats in the carriage – under other circumstances, I’d have been only too happy to offer my seat to man but decided if he couldn’t be civil to me, I’d stay sat down. After all, the journey to Nottingham was two hours, and I was feeling tired enough myself.

Now, I’m not some kind of ethical genius that keeps my emotions totally under control all day long, but I found that this man’s behaviour had really got up my nose. Generally, speaking, I try to subscribe to the school of thought that puts problems into one of two camps.

  • I can do something about it. In which case, I’ll get engaged and try to improve the situation.
  • I can’t do anything about it. In which case, I’ll say “tough luck” to myself and move on.

This means that most of the time, I’ve got a laid-back attitude to life, with most of my time and energy being consumed by things I either want to do because they’re fun, or because they’ll improve something else.

The importance of standing up for yourself

Despite this, I sometimes find that people like to push a few buttons to see what will happen. They’re used to being around people that scream and shout, or that dive headfirst into every situation, and can’t quite figure out how I’ll react to different events. When this sort of person comes along, I occasionally find that it’s necessary to turn to face them head on, to convince them that I won’t be steamrollered by bad behaviour, just because I have a clear code of honour I stick by.

Speaking clearly and firmly is crucial. You don’t need to swear or shout, just to speak firmly and decisively. Likewise, looking someone in the eye, especially if they’re you, is a really good way to show them that you mean business. I’ve diffused numerous situations simply by acting decisively, thereby preventing things from escalating in the way that a raised voice would likely do.

Likewise, not being afraid of silence can be a powerful thing. People will often rabbit on, especially in moments of duress, making themselves look weak and uncertain through trying to justify their thoughts or behaviour. By being direct with my wording, and confident with my body language, I can often turn away people that are being totally unreasonable.


Ultimately, being assertive and standing up for yourself doesn’t need to have you bare knuckle boxing. Keeping your cool and speaking clearly and confidently will get you far further than a raised voice and physical threats. The next time you’re facing a challenging situation, try taking a step back and focusing on your own voice and stance rather than them; you might be surprised how much better the outcome is!