How to Be Assertive

What is assertive behaviour?

Assertiveness is letting people know what you want. It is about honestly expressing your needs, opinions and views in appropriate ways in order to achieve a win-win situation. This might mean saying ““I would like the item delivered on a Thursday please.” rather than just giving in and accepting a stated delivery date without question.
This skill is an important building block of emotional intelligence that will enable you to be more positive and true to yourself. It will help you to be more confident and direct and to take responsibility for your own actions. In other words it will change your life!

Assertiveness is not just about getting your own way. To be assertive means that you acknowledge that others may disagree and have different priorities to you but you still calmly let them know your wishes without trampling on them.

What is non-assertive behaviour?

When you’re not assertive you tend to act in one of three ways: aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive.

Aggressive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour is expressing your needs, views or opinions in ways that threaten, dismiss or control others. It involves being rude, sarcastic and blaming others “I want that money now!” “It’s your fault!” “You always do that!”

Problems: People resent and dislike you. They may then avoid you or retaliate. You may end up feeling guilty.

Passive behaviour

Passive behaviour is not expressing yourself. You let other people’s needs overrule yours. You say, “Don’t worry I don’t really mind.” You give in to other people and avoid conflict but secretly you build up resentment.

Problems: Your needs will not be met. People will abuse you. You lack control in your life. If carry on like this you won’t fulfil your dreams.

Passive-aggressive behaviour

Passive-aggressive behaviour is indirect and dishonest communication of your feelings, opinions and needs. You tend to be unhelpful stubborn and manipulative. You moan and complain. You angrily snap “It doesn’t really matter!” and go into a sulk.

Problems: Others will find you frustrating, confusing and may resent and dislike you. If you behave like this too often people will tend to keep out of your way.

How to become more assertive

Set some targets

Perhaps you resonate with one of these or maybe like me you have seen yourself swing between all of them. You wish that you could be different. Well you can.

This is something I’m just learning but what I am finding is that I can be more assertive. I am setting myself some targets to change the way that I think, how I act and what I say.

Of course the more specific targets are the better. For instance, I want to be more assertive in my body language.

I can imagine myself being really confident in this area:

  • standing with a more open posture,
  • making good eye-contact and
  • speaking with a calm voice

Hatfield and Hasson said “If you can master a self assured posture you will immediately start feeling more confident”

david positive

I need to research this more.

Role-play it.

Do it.

Please join me in this adventure.

Of course you will need to be prepared for some relapses along the way. It will take time to change. You need to keep practicing. You will get it wrong. But hopefully you’ll keep going.

Feel good about yourself

To change it is important to feel good about yourself. As you change and become more assertive it will make you happier, which will help you to change further. This is called a virtuous circle (the opposite of a vicious circle).

Here are three keys you can use to help boost the feel-good factor and kick-start the process:

  • Focus on the strengths and skills you already have and think about how they can help you change to be more assertive.
  • Focus on your relationships with positive people who will encourage you and help you to feel good about yourself.
  • Accept your fears, worries and weaknesses and don’t let them stop you. As Susan Jeffers said “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”

Say what you want

Saying what you want is the heart of assertiveness. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as it sounds. But these tips will help.

1. Ask yourself “What do I want?”

Do I want the person to apologise? Do I want my money back? Be clear. Be specific. If you don’t say it you might not get it.

2. Decide when to say it

You need to find the best time. If you are put on the spot you may need to say something like “I’ll get back to you”. It is hard to be assertive when tired, depressed or unwell. Just as you are sitting down to relax after a hard day at work may not be the best time to discuss an important family decision.

3. Decide how to say it

Say it directly. Say it calmly. Keep it brief and to the point. Don’t be afraid to repeat sentences word for word more than once. Don’t waffle.

4. Listen to the other person

Active listening is another important skill to learn. It involves repeating back what others have said to check understanding.

5. Ask questions

Understanding others is vital. You might need to probe to find out exactly what someone really wants of you. This will clarify the situation.

6. Find a win-win solution

Imagine you want an item delivered on Thursday because Thursdays are the most convenient day for you but the shop can’t deliver this week. With some clear communication you can easily agree a date of Thursday next week.

7. Argue by negotiation

You might need to calmly stand your ground, think creatively and if necessary be ready to compromise: Do some, but not all, of the washing up before going out and do the rest tomorrow morning, for example.

And finally…

Hadfield and Hasson point out: “By changing your attitudes and approach, you may find that others respond differently to you”. Remember the virtuous circle? You gain momentum as you go.

Please let me know if you want to join me on this journey to become more assertive.

Further Reading

Read my review of How to be Assertive in any Situation by Sue Hadfield and Gill Hasson.

This post is taking part in Problogger’s Group Writing Project: Write a ‘How to…’ Post.


March 21, 2013Permalink 7 Comments

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