Do You Need to Be More Assertive?
Have you ever agreed to do something you didn’t want to because the other person was just so pushy about it? Ever gone with the flow for the 213th time because you wanted to avoid conflict? Ever said yes to something, but then secretly rolled your eyes and sighed to yourself and resented that person for it? You probably need to be more assertive.
I recently took an emotional intelligence (EQ) evaluation as part of a training class at work. It assessed your strengths, weaknesses, and resulting happiness, and was eerily accurate. And after describing me to a t, that test told me I needed to be more assertive, because I was likely resenting people for voicing their needs more loudly and urgently than my own. It suggested that constantly giving in to others was undermining my own wants and needs and making it more difficult to experience happiness on a daily basis.
Wow. Are you there too? Do you often resent others for placing their own needs above your own, but instead of asserting yourself, you bite your tongue and give in once again and think some unflattering thoughts about them?
For both of our sakes, I dove into researching how to be more assertive. And it all starts with understanding what assertiveness actually is.
Build on a Solid Foundation
- Understand assertiveness. Assertiveness is all about having the confidence to stand up for yourself, your wants, and your needs, but doing it in a way that still respects others. It is neither passive nor aggressive, but calm, direct, and fair. Understanding this upfront can help to alleviate the fear that assertiveness requires aggressiveness, especially when aggressiveness is not your jam.
- Learn to value yourself. If you don’t truly believe you hold inherent value, it will be difficult to stand up to defend that value. So remind yourself that you are a valuable asset to your family, your friends, your employer, and others. You’re not shooting for self-importance, which is believing that your rights, feelings, and needs are more important than those of others. You’re cultivating self-confidence, which asserts that your rights, feelings, and needs are just as important as those of others. It’s confidently knowing that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
- Take clear stock of your wants and needs. If you don’t determine and definitively set your boundaries, they will continue to move depending upon others’ requests. But in order to set boundaries, you must first make an assessments of your priorities, wants, and needs. What is most important to you? What aspects of your life are nonnegotiable? It could be your family, your health, your psychological well-being, your faith, your hobbies, or anything else.
- Set boundaries. Once you’ve established your priorities, you can nail down your boundaries. For example, my family is more important to me than almost anything else, so one of my top priorities is to log time with my four-year-old every day. That means that even though I’d love to grab dinner with the work fam after hours, I (usually) make my way home instead. Because I love cuddling my daughter over a bedtime story even more. It’s important to know and establish our boundaries ahead of time, so that we can use them to guide our decisions and to teach others what is permissible behavior around and toward us.
Cut Out the Fluff
- Keep it simple and direct. The more you speak to and explain and justify your needs, the more you undermine their importance. It sends the message that your needs require some sort of justification and in fact, they don’t! Additionally, when you begin to justify why you need something, you place the other person in a position of power. What you’ve essentially told them is that it’s their right to decide if your reason is good enough. Say what you need and leave it at that.
- Stop apologizing. There’s no need to apologize for having wants or needs. What are you sorry for? That your life and plans don’t perfectly align with the lives and plans of others? That you have needs and desires of your own? Constantly apologizing undermines everything else you say, because if you act as if you’re unfairly inconveniencing others, why would they act any differently?
Rethink Your Delivery
- Convey confidence. Just as a long-winded explanation can undermine your message, so can timid or apologetic body language! So stand up straight, roll your shoulders back, lean in just a smidge, and look the other person in the eye when you speak. Try to either smile or maintain a neutral expression, whichever is more appropriate given the situation. Your body language can act as a powerful tool to reinforce your verbal message.
- Substitute “I” for “you.” To be more assertive without sounding accusatory or hostile, avoid focusing your message on the other person’s words or actions. Instead, use statements like, “I want…” or “I feel…” This not only avoids triggering the other person with accusations, but also places you in a position of ownership and control.
- Choose your verbs carefully. Some verbs just convey a clearer, more definite message than others. That’s why MindTools.com suggests to “use verbs like ‘will’ instead of ‘could’ or ‘should,’ ‘want’ instead of ‘need,’ or ‘choose to’ instead of ‘have to.’” That means instead of telling your boss, “I could use help covering my workload while I’m on vacation,” you would say, “I will need help covering my workload while I’m on vacation.” Hear the difference?
- Remain calm. Remember, being assertive is all about displaying confidence in a way that still respects others. If you allow your anger or frustration to guide your words, you’ll likely move from assertive to aggressive. And aggressive behavior puts others on the defense, preventing your intended message from being received and properly processed. So pay close attention to your tone, volume, and body language.
- Pick your battles. On your quest to be more assertive, remember that assertiveness isn’t necessary in every situation. There are times when the stakes are lower and a more passive approach would be more effective or better foster relationships. Be picky about when you flex those assertive muscles. Then when you do put them to use, they’ll make a more powerful impression.
Practice Empathy and (Only) Personal Responsibility
- Practice empathy and redirection. Just because you’re acting more assertively doesn’t mean you should disrespect or dismiss the opinions, wants, or needs of others. Listen respectfully to their point of view and try your best to understand, just as you want them to do for you. Acknowledge their concerns, then refocus on what it is you need from them. “I understand that Karen isn’t your favorite person, I get it! But we still need to work together to knock out this project. Let’s decide how to approach this.”
- Remember that you are only responsible for you. Some people won’t respond well when you set out to be more assertive. They’ll be used to getting their way or even manipulating you, and will resist your newfound determination. Remember that you’re not responsible for their reactions to you. As long as you’re making your requests respectfully and within reason, any negative reaction says less about you and more about them. Don’t lose sleep over it!
Take Your Time To Build Up To It
- Ask for some time. If you’re not a naturally assertive person, it can be challenging to come up with an assertive response on the spot. Sometimes it’s best to pause before saying something less than helpful, and to request a little time. Tell the other person that you’d love a few minutes (or even days, depending on the circumstances) to compose your thoughts. I often find myself saying, “That’s a fantastic question and to be honest, I haven’t given it loads of thought. Do you mind if I get back to you on that in xx minutes?”
- Rehearse it! As a writer, I shape my best arguments through writing, editing, and rewording my position multiple times. Unfortunately, in-person interactions don’t afford me that liberty. So I jot down my main points and run through them a few times on my own. I rehearse it as if the person is standing in front of me, getting the tangents and rabbit trails out of my system before it’s showtime. MindTools.com suggests a four-pronged approach that describes (1) the event, (2) your feelings, (3) your needs, and (4) the positive consequences. An example between spouses might sound something like, “(1) I haven’t been able to sleep past 6:00 AM in weeks because the kids keep waking me up. (2) This is exhausting me, and makes me feel like my family doesn’t value or respect my physical and mental health needs. (3) I need you to wake up with the kids one morning a week to allow me to catch up on sleep. (4) If you do that, I can be better rested and more pleasant to be around.”
- Practice saying no. The first few times you have to assertively say no to someone’s request are going to be hard! So start small. It may seem silly, but start by asserting your dinner preferences with your family one night, or which tv show you want to watch after dinner. These are small arenas where you can determine your personal wants and needs and make them known with very little impact. As you start adding up those small nos, your confidence will grow and your delivery will improve, slowly gearing you up to bigger nos…like covering for that same coworker for the sixth time this week.
- It’s going to take some time. You won’t walk away from this post and jump straight into a perfect, assertive delivery of your wants and needs with your boss. This skill requires time and practice to perfect. But if you stick with it, your efforts will slowly transform your communication style for the better!
Wrap It Up
If you’re ready to be more assertive, then build a solid foundation, cut out the fluff, rethink your delivery, practice empathy, and take your time! The journey to increasing and perfecting assertiveness is a marathon, not a sprint. But with time and practice, you’ll be more assertive and hopefully, much happier!
What tricks have you found to be more assertive? Be sure to share in the comments!
P.S. Need a little help establishing your priorities so you can start protecting them? Nab our free goal setting workbook for a step-by-step guide to focusing your time and energy where it matters most.
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