An assertive person makes a point clearly and calmly, with confidence. They accept that they may have more to learn and, therefore, fear neither challenge nor a difference in opinion. They consider their own needs as necessary, and while coming across as assured, they are definitely not aggressive. While communicating, such an individual is both respectful to themselves and those with which they share thoughts and opinions.
Being assertive is a crucial aspect of effective communication and requires you to be heard but not aggressive.
Assertive communication is a powerful tool that helps you to speak up and be heard. It is a way to say, “This is who I am, and this is how I want to be treated,” while remaining aware of the feelings and needs of others.
However, it is not about trying to be liked all the time. Nor is it concerned with making everyone else happy or keeping the peace.
The aim of assertiveness is to make sure that you are heard and treated fairly.
Not only does assertiveness enhance communication skills and strengthen decision making, but it also improves your self-esteem.
Becoming more assertive will make you better equipped to face conflict and difficult situations without self-doubt while earning others’ respect.
So how do you become more assertive?
Building a healthy self-perception
It can be useful to create a set of assertiveness rules by which you can live. They should remind us that we have the right to individual needs and can expect them without guilt or doubt.
Rights of Assertiveness
The following list can be adopted (and amended as required) as a set of assertiveness rules by which you can live.
They remind you that you have the right to individual needs and can expect them without guilt or doubt.
I have the right to:
1. Judge my own thoughts, emotions, and behaviour – while others’ behaviour impacts me, I can choose how I respond.
2. Choose whether I am responsible for solving others’ problems – while I have compassion for others’ problems, I am not responsible for solving their happiness.
3. Change my mind – nothing in life is constant. We change as an individual, and so do our environments. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for our views and beliefs to change over time.
4. Say I don’t know – it’s ok to say I don’t know.
5. Make mistakes – it is entirely human to make mistakes. I can do so and take responsibility for them. Others may claim a mistake is unthinkable or unforgivable, but failure is essential to human growth.
6. Be independent of others’ approval – while it is appreciated, I do not need others’ permission to form my view.
7. Be illogical – I can make decisions when insufficient information means logic cannot provide an answer or predict what will happen.
8. Say I don’t understand – it’s ok to say I don’t understand.
9. Say I don’t care – I genuinely may not be interested in the subject or another’s biased view. While good manners are important, they can lead to a restrictive mindset. We don’t have to say yes to everything, and we are ok to disagree with what is said.
Regularly review the assertiveness rules, amending them as needed. They can be especially useful before or after difficult conversations to bolster internal strength and remind you that you deserve respect.
Indeed, while good manners are important, they can lead to a restrictive mindset. We don’t have to say yes to everything, and it is fine to disagree with what is said.
Self-talk for assertiveness
On the other hand, athletes using positive motivational self-talk can push their limits for longer and even increase their capacity to cope with pain.
Using Positive Assertiveness Statements can encourage a robust and healthy degree of self-worth.
Positive Assertiveness Statements
Read and repeat the following positive assertiveness statements aloud to promote a healthier self-image and strengthen your self-respect.
Your views are important, and you have value and self-worth.
Add to the statements as you think of new ones:
■ I am a good communicator
■ I am confident and strong
■ I stand up for what I believe
■ I stand up for my rights
■ It’s my right to say “no”
■ I believe in myself
■ I am in control
■ I can handle difficult and tense situations
■ I will not be put down by people or external circumstances
■ I am worthy and deserve respect
■ I am secure and comfortable in asking for what I need
■ I can do this
Repeating the statements daily and before a difficult meeting can change your perception and improve self-confidence.
They can also be used for visualisation exercises to form a mental picture of your assertive ideal self.
Feel this shift in how you view yourself, strengthening your inner voice, and becoming aware of the increased self-empowerment.
Repeating the statements daily and before difficult conversations can change your perception and improve self-confidence. Feel this shift in how you view yourself, strengthening your inner voice and becoming aware of the increased self-empowerment.
When talking assertively, it is vital to consider what others hear. If you mumble or don’t speak clearly, you will sound like you lack confidence and passion.
Review the following strategies to understand how using your words impacts whether you sound assertive:
1. Basic Assertion: use clear and uncomplicated statements to confirm what you need or want.
For example, you receive a phone call in the evening when you are leaving your house to meet friends. You could reply: Great to hear from you, but I’m now heading out. Can I give you a call tomorrow?
2. Empathy: show that you are aware of the other person’s situation while asserting your rights.
Empathy can be a useful way of engaging with someone when a conversation involves confrontation or you are not comfortable with asking.
For example, I realise that you are busy, but I need to meet with you tomorrow to discuss some issues.
3. Escalation: a crucial skill for more challenging and confrontational engagements.
While remaining calm and controlled, there are times when it may be necessary to become increasingly assertive. For example, when the person you are dealing with ignores your needs or your rights.
Escalation is typically used as a last resort when basic assertion and empathy have failed.
4. “I” or “Me”: after you have made it clear what the other person has done, then voice your concern.
Use simple statements and “I” or “Me” to maintain control of your side of the conversation.
For example, I am unhappy with the way you spoke to me; it hurt my feelings.
Say how this has made you feel or affected you instead of starting with a more accusing “You” statement. It sounds less argumentative or aggressive and is less easy to deny.
Find opportunities to practice the four approaches and make improvements based on lessons learned.
Planning what you are talking about
Knowing your subject matter and being clear on what you wish to share will help your confidence and make you sound more assertive.
Every good communication starts with having “something meaningful to say, and your goal is to re-create your core idea inside your audience’s minds.”
To do this, you must:
■ Focus on one key idea
■ Find a reason for people to care
■ Build the idea out of concepts the audience already understands
After all, successful communication means you have something worth saying.
We often create obstacles that prevent us from being assertive.
By recognising them, we can put them in perspective. If there is nothing we can do to change the situation, we can learn to accept it, but if there is, then we can find a way to fix it.
Identifying the challenges and finding ways to overcome them will help us grow and get closer to reaching our goal of being a more assertive person.
Understanding the obstacles in our way to assertiveness can help us overcome them.
Helpful Techniques and Tips
Assertiveness and aggression
Assertiveness should not be confused with aggression; they differ in terms of respect.
Aggressive people do not respect the views or the needs of others. They often raise their voices, trample on the opinions of others, and invade their personal space. Their sarcasm and shouting can even lead to violence.
Assertiveness is dignified. Those who are skilled walk the fine line between getting what they want and stepping on others’ needs.
Assertiveness and passivity
Being passive can be as unhelpful to communication as aggression.
The difference between the two is, again, one of respect.
After all, passive people lack respect for their own feelings, needs, and opinions. The desires of others become more important than their own.
Being aggressive will not win you many friends, but neither will passivity. It is ultimately a loss of power, allowing others to make the decisions on our behalf.
How do I stop myself from being a captive of the environment and become assertive?
Visualise success in assertive communication
Use the earlier guidance to help visualise a successful and assertive conversation where everything goes well. The more real you can make it – sights, sounds, smells – the greater the positive impact will be.
Also, consider revisiting previous situations that went well and spend time feeling good about how you performed.
Feel confident in returning to less successful conversations. Where it felt like it went wrong, change how you reacted and how secure you felt.
Picture how strong you can be.
Develop assertive body language
While we have so far focused on internal assertiveness, it is worth considering the impact of our behaviour.
We change the impression we make on ourselves (and others) by adopting behaviours that reflect both strength and power.
Presence can be described as confidence without arrogance. According to a large body of research, it can be achieved through self-nudges, small tweaks in our body language and mindset.
The “power pose” exercise
Try adopting a confident stance, with hands on hips like Wonder Woman or Superman, and hold it for two minutes. This is a power pose!
There are other ways to develop strong body language:
■ Strong eye contact
■ An honest, genuine smile
■ Shoulders back but relaxed
■ When sitting, be straight and tall
■ Gesture with your hands comfortably but not frequently (relax them at your sides when they are not needed)
Personal relationships can be challenging for people lacking in assertiveness. If you wish to be respected by friends and partners, you must first respect yourself.
Here are some tips for being assertive in a relationship:
1. Take back the power
If you are sharing a home, remind yourself that you deserve it to be comfortable.
No one has the right to make me uncomfortable in my own home.
2. Determine what you want
Take time to think about what you want from a successful relationship and what changes you would like.
Express your wants and needs calmly yet confidently.
If you don’t communicate your needs, you are not being fair to yourself or your partner.
3. Communicate what you want
Make time to talk with your partner. Share your needs and listen to theirs. Use “I” and “me” when discussing what you are looking for in a relationship.
4. Continue to be caring
Being assertive does not mean you should be uncaring.
The fact that you wish to share your feelings and improve your relationship should be a sign that you want to invest more in the bond you have together.
Find time together to share your needs calmly.
It doesn’t have to be a stressful occasion but rather an opportunity to grow the relationship to fulfil you both.
Assertiveness at work
Assertiveness in the work environment is crucial. When successful, you communicate your needs and wishes clearly (what is to be done, by when, and how) without appearing discourteous or rude.
While being assertive does not ensure you always get what you ask for, it does increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Respect (for yourself and others) and good relationship communication skills are crucial to assertiveness, but also:
■ Be assertive but not aggressive You will not gain respect if you behave aggressively at work, which will hinder your ability to communicate effectively.
■ Prepare Visualise, note down, or discuss with someone you trust how you are going to manage a problematic conversation assertively. ■ Know your rights Take time to learn about what you are entitled to and what is acceptable.
For example, what are you entitled to in terms of vacation time and sick leave? Are there any limitations on when it can be taken? If a manager is behaving inappropriately, what are your next steps?
■ Know your boundaries What are your limits when it comes to how many hours you work? While you may accept some late work, at what point does this become unacceptable? ■ Recognise how valuable you are Value yourself as a person and an employee. Consider your strengths at work and what you bring to the organisation.
5. Activities and Exercises
To be more assertive, you may need to form some new habits.
While it can be challenging to make many changes at once, it can be more comfortable taking one at a time.
Consider the following:
■ Be clear about your vision What do you want to accomplish? Create a long-term vision. ■ Set goals Create shorter term goals that will help you reach your longer-term vision. ■ Practice positive thinking and visualisation Consider who you would like to be and how you would like to communicate. Creating a strong positive image can reframe how you see yourself, building both self-confidence and self-respect. ■ Challenge yourself Growth and confidence can be built by meeting and overcoming challenges and obstacles. ■ Focus on your strengths Understand your strengths and use them.
It’s essential to understand how you see yourself. What beliefs do you hold?
Answer the questions on Self Evaluation and Assertiveness below to gain insight into how your perception of yourself affects how you communicate.
The number of negative answers to questions such as “Are you able to say no?” indicates how assertive you are.
Lacking assertiveness is a problem. Without it, you tend to back down and live your life on other people’s terms rather than your own.
Self-evaluation Questions for Assertiveness
How you see yourself affects how you communicate.
The following self-evaluation questions provide you with a clearer understanding of whether you have assertiveness issues, based on how you communicate and interact with others:
2 or 3 “no’s” – most likely, you are self-assured and do not find it difficult to assert your needs and wants.
4 to 6 “no’s” – there is a high chance you see yourself negatively. You find it more challenging to communicate what you need and want.
7 or more “no’s” – most likely, you find assertiveness difficult, you feel unworthy of respect, and you tend to back down.
Sally Edwards Counselling
I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent
I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems.
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