HOW many times have you walked away from a negotiation table without achieving what you originally intended? Perhaps you agreed to take on additional work or responsibility because you were unable to say "no". Perhaps you felt unworthy of fighting for your interests. Or maybe you were unable to bring yourself to ask for what you want.

Have you ever wondered why some people always seem to get what they want while others rarely do? Well, you are not alone. Most of us feel we deserve more than we get at some time or other.

But we cannot deny that some people consistently get their fair share or more. How do they do it? The answer is they know how to assert themselves.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is one of the most important life skills you could have. Think of all the extraordinary people you know or have heard of, whether in business or government. Think of all the top CEOs, the most successful entrepreneurs and the greatest political leaders. Think Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Lee Kuan Yew.

Just about anyone who achieves any significant level of success or greatness is assertive - you simply do not rise to the top if you are not assertive.

Mother Teresa was one of the most caring people of the last century. But she was no pushover. In fact, she was very bold in asking for charitable contributions and political assistance. Beneath her kind and saintly exterior was an assertive spirit.

What about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr? Both men were all the more remarkable for their explicit rejection of violence. They were assertive, and did not hesitate to demand what they and their people clearly deserved. They stood up for themselves and for countless others, and made a difference to the world.

Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for yourself, without stepping on anyone else's toes. It is the ability to express yourself in a manner that is clear, direct, specific and considerate. It means saying what you mean and meaning what you say, confidently.

It is the happy medium between passive and aggressive. Passive people are often reluctant to express their interests. On the other hand, aggressive people do not have this problem because they are usually inconsiderate towards others.

Why it matters

Assertiveness allows you to ask for what you want, say "no" when you want, and get more out of life. It will help you on the job - you get more raises, promotions, and good assignments.

It will help you socially as people respond more positively to you. It will help you communicate more effectively with family and friends.It will also help you manage and resolve conflict situations before they escalate, both on and off the job.

Assertive people have positive self-esteem. They like and value themselves. They are in control of their lives. They have fulfilling relationships based on open communication and mutual respect.

Assertive people express their feelings honestly and without guilt. They take responsibility for their feelings; they do not blame others or make excuses. They stand up for themselves and exercise their rights while respecting others.

Assertive people are able to look a person in the eye and speak in a firm yet non-threatening tone. They do not allow others to take advantage of them.

Assertiveness, not passivity or aggression, leads to win-win outcomes.

Nature versus nurture

The above characteristics are signs of a healthy, confident, and well-adjusted personality but assertive people are a rare breed. Studies show that only five to 20 per cent of the population is assertive.

People are not born assertive. Like any other critical life skill, assertiveness is a strategy that can be learned.

Some people learn it early. By the time they are in pre-school, they have already learned how to get the toys they want to play with.

As they grow up, they use the same strategies to get the jobs they want, the pay raises and promotions, and opportunities they desire. On the other hand, there are others who never get what they want. But anyone can learn to be assertive.