How to be assertive?

Yesterday one girl from my office asked me to change with places where we seat (she sits very far away like far behind from team, alone). She did it in front of other people like "Please can we change with seats, it would be much more comfortable for her, she would have access to needed documents and also she told me like i barely show up at office anyway because I am on business trips often" etc. Which pressured me to say - yes.

Now I hate myself, I didn't really want to change with seats, its much comfortable for me to seat where I'm currently at. Does it show my weakness? I thought if I wouldn't have gone her way, probably people will think I'm a rude person.

  • For the interpersonal aspect see: How to say no without sounding rude?
    – Brandin
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 8:28
  • Have you completed the swap - moving coffee cups, desk draws, etc? Commented May 6, 2019 at 10:10
  • 1
    After swapping desks, you can go to your desk and ask if you could switch tables, because it would be much more comfortable for you and so on. You won't get your desk back, but you'll get a lesson in handling these questions. "NO" is a complete sentence.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 11:39
  • You could try Paul McKenna "I can make you confident". A bit of hypnosis. Don't know how good it is, but I know a heavy smoker who didn't touch a cigarette after using his audiobook.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 19:02
  • This isn't a problem with assertiveness or confidence as it would mean you tried but failed to persuade them to not use your desk. Rather it's a question of courage as you weren't forced to move but did so because you were afraid to speak your mind.
    – Dan
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 19:41

3 Answers 3


First of all, don't be hard on yourself. You need to know one thing: you cannot solve all problems, because they are not yours to solve at first place.

That said, given the situation (you are not okay with mutual swapping of desk location), and all similar situations, in general, you just have to tell that. There's no need to be worried about what others will think - they have no business thinking about it.

If I were you, instead of a direct "no" (which may sound rude), I'd have said:

"Hey, I'm sorry to hear you are facing some difficulties with the seating arrangement, however I cannot simply swap the desk location because then, I'd have to face the same problem - is not it? Rather than doing that, why don't you drop a mail / put a word to your boss about the problem you are facing and let's see whether they can come up with a solution or not?"

Saying "No" is not easy, however, at times, it's what is needed and will have positive outcomes.

  • 1
    +1 for saying a straight up "no". People really need to get used to hearing that again. In OP's case, this book could help him / her find some reasoning and possibly tips on the "how-to" of saying "no": The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers - by Robert C. Martin
    – rkeet
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 12:46


If at all possible put a halt to proceedings and take your desk back. It would have been easier for you to say no initially but you can still back out.

If you haven't transferred items between desks yet then it is very straightforward. Simply say that you have changed your mind and that the swap is no longer happening. Something along the lines of:

I'm sorry but it won't be possible to swap. I like my current desk and realised that I need it for easy access to documents/people/resources x, y and z.

Your colleague won't be happy about this but it is tough luck. Remember that they were asking for something ridiculous (they wanted to have a nice desk entirely at your expense). Offer some sympathy and apologies but stop short of actually helping them out. If they talk about your business trips then offer to let them use the desk when you are away.

If you have already swapped desks then the situation is trickier. The best way forwards would be to speak to the office/desk manager (or your line manager if they can dominate the desk manager) and say you have tried out a new seating arrangement but it hasn't worked for you and you want to reverse the process.

All of the above is in lieu of managerial input. If an appropriate manager gets involved then you can make your case but shouldn't go against their decision (notify your line manager if this happens and they might sort it).


You've made a huge mistake. Desk space is the crown jewels of office politics. People can get extremely territorial and, depending on your circumstances and attitude of management, it may be difficult or impossible to gain access to any of the comfortable desks.

There are basically three ways to win at the game of desks:

  1. Get a manager to allocate you a good desk (often this is favouritism under the guise of reorganisation).
  2. Steal/scavange/repurpose a desk when someone leaves the organisation
  3. Cling to what you have. Accept no compromises unless they protect your position.

Remember that everybody else is also playing the game of desks. Most people will have a moderately comfortable arrangement that they have become accustomed to and the thing they fear most is losing it. This motivates people to believe in the sanctity of possession.

"I thought if I wouldn't have gone her way, probably people will think I'm a rude person."

Maybe but probably not. Turn the question around: if you ask for you desk back and she tells you "no" will people think that she is rude?

They might do but ultimately it doesn't matter: she has the desk and the new truth will quickly become an accepted norm. They will only remember it negatively if they think of her in general as being a rude person.


What P. Hopkinson said: If at all possible, put a halt to it. If you haven't moved things, you just said "sorry, but I changed my mind about moving". Then WHATEVER SHE SAYS you keep with "sorry, but I changed my mind. I'm not moving". If you think you shouldn't repeat the same sentence again and should vary it, don't. The message is "Sorry, I changed my mind, I'm not moving". Around the tenth time or so you say it, she will accept it. But whether she accepts it or not, YOU DON'T MOVE.

Should she take anything of yours and takes it away, you stop her. Whatever she takes, take it out of her hands and put it back.

All this isn't rude. It's not being a doormat.

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