How to be More Assertive
As an introverted ‘nice guy’ I have spent my fair share of life giving in to others’ needs. Being assertive is absolutely necessary at times in order to be taken seriously, understood, and actually listened to. It means expressing yourself effectively and standing up for your own point of view, even if others don’t seem to give you respect – however, you also need to respect the rights and beliefs of others while asserting yourself. Being more assertive can help book your self-esteem as well as earn respect from those around you, including your coworkers, your family, and your romantic partner. It can help you feel calmer, achieve more, and have more time for yourself. It can even help you learn something very important: how to say, “No.”
Some people are naturally assertive, it is just a part of their personality. If you’re not one of those lucky people, you can be conditioned to assert yourself. It takes retraining, but that doesn’t mean you have to change who you are – it can be done through your language and demeanor, but never the place it all comes from.
Why Should You Be Assertive?
To have some level of assertiveness means to have respect. It’s an effective communication style that translates to the business world, parenting affairs, and matters of the heart. It shows that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in, and express yourself clearly and carefully. When used appropriately, it can also show others that you are willing to compromise and willing to talk through things.
Remember, however: it’s not just what you say that makes you who you are, it’s how you say it. You need to have an air of respect, determination, and education on your side. Being assertive about things that you’re wrong about don’t help your cause. Being assertive and not being able to back it up make you look foolish. Being assertive and being rude makes you look like a jerk. It’s a fine line to walk, as you don’t want your message to be lost.
Benefits to being Assertive
Being assertive is integral to being happy and healthy. It improves your mental health by making you feel valued, understood, and important to the people around you. Physically, it makes you hold yourself a little taller, and doesn’t tax on your sleeping or eating habits. But being assertive also helps you learn your own limits, because you consciously listen and think about what you are going to say before you do it. Through your mission to becoming more assertive you will:
- Improve your self-confidence
- Enhance your self-esteem
- Understand your own feelings
- Recognize those feelings in others
- Earn respect from colleagues
- Create compromise
- Improve decision making
- Gain job satisfaction
- Get better reviews
This book will walk you towards being more assertive by using seven different approaches that will help you get where you want to be. It won’t always be easy, and some steps will work for you while others might be harder. They key is to keep moving, keep growing, and keep working at it until it’s naturally a part of your personality.
Step 1: Assess your Current Communication Style
To begin, you must understand your current style of communication. Do you tell people what you really think, or do you tend to judge them behind their backs? Knowing where you are going to start is a great way to understand where you will have to go as you move forward. You will be able to pick and choose where you start and where you end. We will go through some sample statements and some body movements that represent each style. Imagine yourself during meetings: how do you look and what do you say? If you don’t know, just jot some things down during your next meeting so you can move forward.
Passive Communication Style
If you find yourself saying, “I don’t mind what we do,” or “Whatever you think is best,” often, you probably have a passive communication style. Most people who wish to be more assertive fall into the passive category. During a meeting or a project, someone who is passive will be somewhat submissive, talk very little, praises others openly but receives little in return, and often uses non-verbal communication like a smile or a thumbs up. Often, someone who is passive always feels like someone else will have a better idea.
People with a passive communication style sit with hunched over body and refrain from making eye contact with others unless absolutely necessary.
Passive communicators have the most changes to make, but they are also easier changes than some of the other communication types. The changes need to come from a place of goodness instead of a place of anger, jealousy, or greed – things many passive people don’t have. Any of the following steps would be great for passive communicators.
Assertive Communication Style
For those who think they are assertive already, there is still room to grow within the group. Assertive people have actions and expressions that have clear, firm, but polite message. There isn’t a definitive answer to whether or not you are assertive: there is definitely a scale where someone changes depending on the situation, the people involved, or the time of the year. Some key phrases include, “Why don’t we combine…” or “Well, if we go to your mother’s house for this day, than we can go to mine for this day.”
Assertive people are relaxed and open when in any kind of situation. They know when to take the backseat and when to take the reins. They also believe that everyone is an individual, they don’t always see the “team” as one entity, but several different people coming together. There is also an understanding that no one is more entitled than anyone else.
Assertive communicators still need some help making changes. Chances are, a person who is assertive in his or her relationships won’t be as assertive at work. The trick is figuring out what works in one instance that doesn’t work in another.
Aggressive Communication Style
Aggressive communicators often think they are simple being assertive. The truth is, they have some of the mannerisms or vocabulary down, but the place where the communication comes from isn’t always authentic, genuine, or frankly, very nice. They might get ahead more often because they continually take credit for successes, but they also tend to not have the respect of coworkers. In a relationship, these people frequently have nasty breakups. If you say things like, “Well, I’m the parent and that’s why!” or “We are going to do it this way, and if you don’t like it, tough!” you might be aggressive.
Often, this person will resort to sarcasm, interruptions, or put downs to get his or her point across. Still, there doesn’t have to be anything directed at a person to be aggressive. It can include being overly critical of little things or being patronizing to others involved in a process.
When in a discussion (though it may sometimes seem more like an argument), the physicality of the person comes across much stronger than that in any other communication style. Hands on the hips, pointing, or clenched fists indicate that someone is aggressive.
There are ways to channel being aggressive into being assertive instead. It isn’t always easy, because being aggressive is a defense mechanism at times. The important thing to realize is that it will take constant vigilance over your actions and your habits.
Once you know your communication style, it is much easier to go through the next few steps to make changes. Don’t simply focus on everything you do. First, focus in on where you are more aggressive. Tackling that will make it easier to communicate with others. For instance, if you are aggressive in your personal relationship but assertive-aggressive at your job, taking on the personal relationship is more important. Don’t shy away from the “harder” fix – chances are, fixing that will lead you to make smaller steps in other areas that you don’t even realize you’re making.
Do be careful that you don’t go from one extreme to the other. It is all about a gradual change instead of a complete personality change. It will be easier on you, but also easier on the people around you!
Step 2: Start using “I….” Statements to be Assertive
“I” statements take what you’re saying off of the other person, and attribute the feelings back to your own mind and experience. Instead of saying “You do…” or “You can’t,” replace the “You” with “I” and see how much clearer your meanings are, and how much better you feel.
In a professional setting, it isn’t always easy to get ourselves out of an uncomfortable situation and still be assertive. However, a great way to get there is through “I” statements that will make it clear to your coworkers and bosses how you feel, what you know, and what you can do.
“I’ Statements require some healthy transparency, and you don’t get mixed up in the “he said she said” situations. Instead, it makes you very clear to everyone around you what you believe your capabilities are. That’s not to say you will always get your way with assertive “I” statements – you might not, after all, this is your job.
Be assertive when you tell your coworkers what you think, but don’t expect that to be the magic way to get everything you want.
Some statements you can use include:
- I know a lot about this.
- I’m not sure I understand what’s going on.
- I don’t really have time for this.
- I don’t think I can do this.
When a relationship has been torched by misunderstandings, poisoned by suspicion, or battered by hurt feelings, it’s hard to communicate with each other effectively. What’s needed is some way to rebuild a foundation of trust and cooperation between us and our partner.
Often, these arguments or blow ups that happen in relationships come with someone hiding his or her feelings (having a submissive communication style) until he or she cannot take anymore. Using “I” statements can rebuild those relationships once a fight is over, and can help to prevent another one.
An “I” statement will give your partner information about how you actually feel about a situation instead of letting your anger speak for itself. The statement gives you the power to assert control over something in your life that you should have complete control over.
Be assertive with your feelings by explaining them clearly. Don’t try to make excuses, and don’t be sorry for how you feel. Be open, and don’t cut yourself off from your partner, but don’t give in to his or her feelings, either.
Some statements you can use when trying to express yourself in an assertive manner include:
- I feel happy.
- I am feeling furious.
- I feel powerful.
- I feel insecure.
- I want you.
- I feel too afraid.
- I love you.
One of the easiest or hardest, depending who you are, group of people to use “I” statements with include your children. It can be difficult to tell your children no or that you don’t want to do something. However, instead of putting it back on them, telling them why you don’t want to do something works better than simply saying, “No,” or “That’s a stupid idea.”
Remember that children sometimes are selfish, but you have to stick to your guns if you really want to be assertive in this aspect of your life.
Some statements you can use include:
- I don’t want to do that.
- I think that’s a bad idea.
- I don’t have time for that right now.
- I wish you wouldn’t do that.
- It doesn’t make me feel good when you say that.
- Remember this other forms of “I”: me, my, mine, and personally
- It isn’t always possible to use “I” terms – it isn’t always about you.
- Don’t expect this to be a cure-all to your submissive or aggressive tendencies.
Step 3: Learn to say “No” Assertively but not Aggressively
This is the most difficult thing to master for someone who is a submissive communicator. Saying “No” isn’t always easy because, as humans, we are natural people pleasers. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, and we don’t like feel like we can’t do something. However, saying, “No” is so important to claiming an assertive personality. However, for someone who is used to saying, “Yes” to everything, it can be hard to distinguish when we should say no. For people who already say, “No,” it can be difficult to know when it is appropriate to actually say it. Here are some tips where you should (or shouldn’t!) say, “No.”
It isn’t always appropriate to tell certain people no. You need to know when you can say no so you don’t go into the aggressive territory. It is only appropriate to say, “No” when you really can’t do something – not when you’d rather not do it, or you don’t like doing it. Instead, tell the person that! You can say, “I’d rather not…” or “You know, I don’t think it would be best for me to do that.” See how we are combining “I” statements and saying, “No?”
Say no when you absolutely have to. That will make those instances when you do say, “No” more poignant and taken more seriously. It will also make you see more assertive in a good way.
Try not to say, “No” outright to people in front of others. If someone has an idea you just don’t think could ever work, tell them personally without an audience. Not only will it make the receiver even more upset, but it will also stop other people from contributing.
At home in your relationship or parenting, it’s the same way: make sure the timing is appropriate. In front of friends or family might not be the best time as it can be embarrassing.
Don’t do it through an email, and don’t be flippant about it.
The where will make or break the situation and how the other person handles it. Saying, “No” will take you from submissive to assertive, but knowing where to say it will bring you down from aggressive.
- Make sure to explain why you said what you said.
- Think it through before you answer – take all the time you need.
- Reason through the no, see if you can turn it into a yes.
Step 4: Watch your Body Language
Communication isn’t just verbal, it is also in the way you hold yourself and the way to act towards others. Act confident even if you aren’t feeling it. Keep an upright posture, but lean forward a bit. Make regular eye contact. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression. Don’t wring your hands or use dramatic gestures. Practice assertive body language in front of a mirror or with a friend or colleague.
Make sure you keep an open position. This means that you don’t have your arms crossed over your chest or you are hunched over your papers. If you have to take notes, take shorter ones so that you can give the person speaking your complete attention.
Put away your cell phone and laptop. Instead, be present in the moment. If you can’t, turn your body (including the laptop) toward the person. Nod occasionally, or shake your head slightly if you don’t agree or the person got a fact wrong.
Most importantly, don’t fidget with something else. This will make you appear like you really don’t care about the topic at hand and that it isn’t important to you.
Being assertive while in a relationship is difficult when you have this natural inkling to calm the person to make everything better instead of actually talking about our feelings. When discussing something that you both see two sides of, make sure your body language is open and listening.
Put down whatever else you’re doing, and look at the person. You want to be able to hear and see everything someone talks about.
Hold hands, if that will help you. The best possible way to be assertive with someone, is let your emotions show in a productive way. That doesn’t mean break out into tears or stomp away, instead it means letting your face and mannerisms show how you really feel.
Body language, especially when being assertive with younger children, allows the child to know you still love them. Of course you do, but in a younger mind, that isn’t always clear. You can’t put your arm around a colleague, but you can around your son or daughter. Cuddle up with them and let them know why they aren’t getting a new computer or why he or she can’t go to that sleepover.
Make sure you continue that touching and closeness for a few days after the decision, especially if it was a big one.
- Stick to your guns.
- Don’t get too emotional.
- Try to never cross your arms.
Step 5: Learn How to Ask
Learning how to ask for something: a promotion, a turn, a chance, a minute to yourself, or for someone to listen to you can help you on the way to being assertive. Through learning to ask for someone, you will work on being assertive. This tip is short, but increasingly important as you grow in your assertiveness.
At work, ask for that promotion you think you deserve or for a chance to work with a big client. Instead of asking in a rude manner after you’ve been in a terse conversation, ask politely in an email or during a one-on-one meeting.
In a relationship, learn how to ask for favors or for some time alone. It isn’t too much to ask for, especially if you have done something for the other person. Learn about timing – it might not be best to ask someone as soon as he or she comes home from work or when things are particularly tense.
For your kids, this can be the most difficult. You will have to learn to ask for peace and quiet, or ask them to not bring friends over after school. Know that there are times when you will ask, and the answer might be no. Instead, use those times when you ask as moments where the only answer can be “Yes.”
- Make sure you can back up what you ask for with reasons for why you are asking.
- Allow others to ask as well.
- Don’t ask all the time.
- Only ask if you really, really need to.
Step 6: Break the Pattern
We are creatures of habit. We all make habits, whether we are submissive or aggressive. Part of being aggressive is breaking some of those habits and allowing ourselves to make choices or taking the lead on something that we normally don’t. It can also mean the opposite – learning how to stand down and allowing others to take the lead. Once you have mastered some of the other steps, you can then move on to tackle this one.
For submissive workers, there is a tendency to not say too much during a meeting. Instead, you take notes dutifully and walk out without making much of an impact. Start speaking up at meetings, offering new perspectives and differing ideas. Work your way up to maybe even leading the discussion at the meeting.
For aggressive workers, you often say too much during a meeting. Still speak, because what you have to say is important, but let others talk as well. Perhaps ask people, by name, for what they have to say.
To be assertive, share your thoughts frequently, but only truly dominate when it is something you know the most or the best. Still, you have to see the value in the thoughts of other people as well.
Maybe you have a friend that always picks the restaurant you go to when she’s in town. Or maybe your girlfriend always picks the movie to watch on a Friday night. Instead, suggest going to that new Thai place or watching the documentary you have always wanted to see. Chances are, you never really spoke up when it came to those decisions. Make sure you keep the other person in mind. If the person has a food allergy, don’t suggest you go somewhere that food features heavily.
If you are always the person who chooses, ask the other person his or her opinion. If that person is a submissive communicator, perhaps choose a few things you would like and ask for him or her to pick between those options. That makes it a compromise, which will make everyone just a little happier.
If you always let your child get away with something that you’d prefer them not to, it can be difficult to break that habit. The best way is to start with something from the time they are younger.
Still, correcting your child’s habit now will help him or her in the future. Stop their bad behaviors before they get too old that it isn’t possible.
Sit your child down and tell them, “No.” If your child always gets a toy when you go shopping, but money is getting tight, reserve the right to tell your child no. Break that habit so that you can use the money elsewhere. If your child always goes to a certain friend’s house, but you found out that friend isn’t a good influence, break the habit and tell him no.
Breaking the habit really takes every step you’ve covered and makes them come together so that you can turn over a new leaf.
- Rehearse what you want to say if you think you can’t get through it in front of other people, or if you think you will be too harsh.
- Keep your emotions in check.
- Submissive communicators tend to get upset more easily. Try not to let your voice waver or stop mid-sentence if you fear no one is listening.
- Aggressive communicator, on the other hand, get angry. Give yourself time to breathe and calm down before you answer.
- Know your limits! There are situations where might not be able to be assertive, and that’s okay.
- Treat everyone equally – if you are going to be assertive, you need to be assertive with everyone.
- Tell someone you are trying to change your communication style. This person will offer you tips and give you feedback. Make sure it is someone you can trust to be honest with you.
- Keep a balanced diet! It is so much easier to be agreeable and polite when you aren’t hungry or overly bloated.
Being assertive isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always right. However, it is a true middle of the road approach that will help you move forward in your life as a person and a professional.