Do you often feel as though you fail to get your opinions heard, or that people readily dismiss or undermine your views? Maybe you have a habit of handling situations aggressively or lack the confidence to speak up. You might have felt unable to do anything about it at the time, but by learning how to be more assertive, you can stand up for yourself, and become a strong and confident communicator.
Assertiveness is a key skill that can help you to better manage yourself, people and situations. It can help you to influence others in order to gain acceptance, agreement or behaviour change. It is the ability to express your opinions positively and with confidence. Assertive people are in control of themselves and are honest with themselves and others.
It’s not always easy to identify truly assertive behaviour. This is because there’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggression, and people can often confuse the two. For this reason, it’s useful to define the two behaviours so that we can clearly separate them:
• Assertiveness is based on balance. It requires being forthright about your wants and needs, while still considering the rights, needs and wants of others. When you’re assertive, you are self-assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly, fairly and with empathy.
• Aggressive behaviour is based on winning. You do what is in your own best interest without regard for the rights, needs, feelings, or desires of other people. When you’re aggressive, the power you use is selfish. You may come across as pushy or even bullying. You take what you want, often without asking.
How to Be Assertive
It’s not always easy to become more assertive, but it is possible. So, if your disposition or workplace tends to be more passive or aggressive than assertive, then it’s a good idea to work on the following areas to help you to get the balance right:
1. Value Yourself and Your Rights
To be more assertive, you need to gain a good understanding of yourself, as well as a strong belief in your inherent value and your value to your organization and team. This self-belief is the basis of self-confidence and assertive behaviour. It will help you to recognize that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, give you the confidence to stick up for your rights and protect your boundaries, and to remain true to yourself, your wants and your needs.
2. Voice Your Needs and Wants Confidently
If you’re going to perform to your full potential then you need to make sure that your priorities – your needs and wants – are met. Don’t wait for someone else to recognize what you need. You might wait forever. Take the initiative and start to identify the things that you want now. Then, set goals so that you can achieve them. Once you’ve done this, you can tell your boss or your colleague exactly what it is that you need from them to help you to achieve these goals in a clear and confident way. Find ways to make requests that avoid sacrificing others’ needs. Remember, you want people to help you, and asking for things in an overly aggressive or pushy way is likely to put them off doing this and may even damage your relationship.
3. Acknowledge That You Can’t Control Other People’s Behaviour
Don’t make the mistake of accepting responsibility for how people react to your assertiveness. If they, for example, act angry or resentful toward you, try to avoid reacting to them in the same way. Remember that you can only control yourself and your own behaviour, so do your best to stay calm and measured if things get tense. As long as you are being respectful and not violating someone else’s needs, then you have the right to say or do what you want.
4. Express Yourself in a Positive Way
It’s important to say what’s on your mind, even when you have a difficult or negative issue to deal with. But you must do it constructively and sensitively. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and to confront people who challenge you and/or your rights. But remember to control your emotions and to stay respectful at all times.
5. Be Open to Criticism and Compliments
Accept both positive and negative feedback graciously and positively. If you don’t agree with criticism that you receive then you need to be prepared to say so, but without getting defensive or angry.
6. Learn to Say “No”
Saying “no” is hard to do, especially when you’re not used to doing it, but it’s vital if you want to become more assertive. Knowing your own limits and how much work you are able to take on will help you to manage your tasks more effectively, and to pinpoint any areas of your job that make you feel as though you’re being taken advantage of.
7. Review Your Progress
Every time that you try out your assertiveness, spend a couple of minutes afterward asking yourself, “How did I handle that?” “What did I do well?” “What might I do differently next time?” This will keep you on track and help you to identify areas for development.
Assertive Communication Techniques
In addition to the above strategies, there are a number of simple but effective communication techniques that you can use to become more assertive. These are:
Use “I want”, “I need” or “I feel” to convey basic assertions and get your point across firmly. For example, “I feel strongly that we need to bring in a third party to mediate this disagreement.”
Always try to recognize and understand how the other person views the situation. Then, after taking their point of view into consideration, express what you need from them.
If your first attempts at asserting yourself have been unsuccessful, then you may need to escalate the matter further. This means becoming firmer (though still polite and respectful) with the person who you are requesting help from and may end in you telling them what you will do next if you still aren’t satisfied, such as starting the disciplinary process.
Ask for More Time
Sometimes, it’s best not to say anything straight away. You might be too emotional or you might not know what it is that you want yet. If this is the case, be honest and tell the person that you need a few minutes to compose your thoughts.
Change Your Verbs
Try using verbs that are more definite and emphatic when you communicate. This will help you to send a clear message and avoid “sugar-coating” your message so much that people are left confused by what it is that you want from them. To do this, use verbs like “will” instead of “could” or “should,” “want” instead of “need,” or “choose to” instead of “have to.”
Be a Broken Record
Prepare the message that you want to convey ahead of time. If people still don’t get the message, then keep restating your message using the same language, and don’t relent. Eventually they will realize that you really mean what you’re saying.
It can often be hard to know how to put your feelings across clearly and confidently to someone when you need to assert yourself. The scripting technique can help here. It allows you to prepare what you want to say in advance, using a four-pronged approach that describes:
1. The event. Tell the other person exactly how you see the situation or problem
2. Your feelings. Describe how you feel about the situation and express your emotions clearly.
3. Your needs. Tell the other person exactly what you need from them so that they don’t have to guess.
4. The consequences. Describe the positive impact that your request will have for the other person or the company if your needs are met successfully.
Being assertive means finding the right balance between passivity (not assertive enough) and aggression (angry or hostile behaviour). It means having a strong sense of yourself and your value and acknowledging that you deserve to get what you want. And it means standing up for yourself even in the most difficult situations. Being assertive doesn’t mean dominating or dismissing others in order to get what you want. Acting in your own interest without considering other people’s rights, feelings, desires, or needs is aggression.
You can learn to be more assertive over time by identifying your needs and wants, expressing them in a positive way, and learning to say “no” when you need to. You can also use assertive communication techniques to help you to communicate your thoughts and feelings firmly and directly. It likely won’t happen overnight but, by practicing these techniques regularly, you will slowly build up the confidence and self-belief that you need to become assertive. You’ll also likely find that you become more productive, efficient and respected, too.