The art of assertiveness: A guide for women
Instead of being governed by the desire to please: as women, we need more transparent, honest, direct communication. The art of assertiveness teaches us to take charge of our feelings without the need to please or blame others.
When and where to be assertive
Using assertiveness as a form of communication is a choice. When we choose to be assertive, we become role models for how we can get what we want without being disrespectful to ourselves and others.
Do you speak up when a stranger, in the quiet zone of the train, bellows into their phone? Or do you glare at him, hoping that he takes the message? If you’re in a restaurant and your food is cold, do you tell the waiter to take it back or eat it because you don’t want to fuss? Or do you holler at the waiter because you know your, right?
If you have lent a friend money and he hasn’t paid you back after months of waiting, do you ask for it assertively or shrug your shoulders and forget about it? At home, how do you behave if the dishes are left in the sink? How do you respond to a demanding relative or a child who consistently asks for things you can’t afford?
How do you react to legitimate criticism at work? Do you get upset and start crying? Do you get angry and storm off or confront your critic? Do you shift blame?
We can adapt four types of behaviour to these different scenarios: aggressive (I’m OK, you’re not OK), passive (I’m not OK), passive-aggressive, and assertive (I’m OK, and you’re OK).
What is an assertive woman?
The popular stereotype of an assertive woman is usually harmful and viewed as being oppressive, authoritarian, and overbearing. Furthermore, she gets what she wants by using any means necessary and is typically someone who is not to be messed around.
However, the reality is that most women feel uncomfortable with the idea of being unpleasant, uncaring, or offensive.
To use assertive skills effectively means that you can still maintain direction and clarity and remain authoritative while avoiding aggression, which, to be honest, is the essence of an assertive woman.
Assertive women find that they can maintain control and not ‘go over the top’ with their emotions, spilling out onto the meeting room table or the kitchen floor. An assertive woman is confident when talking with someone she once found—intimidating and takes the initiative by making requests in advance.
Women are so used to swinging between feeling powerful and powerless that we can easily find the middle ground to be more assertive.
Remember, the essential distinguishing feature of assertive communication and behaviour is the principle of equality. Believing you are equal to everyone else means you will expect respect and dignity.
Now, let’s look at a few examples of powerful techniques to improve your communication and behaviour.
1. Be specific
Decide what the point is and stick to it without padding it out with ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying this; you’ll probably think I’ve got a cheek asking, but...’
This padding out a request weakens your statement and confuses the listener. A better way of requesting some is ‘I was wondering if you could…’ much more direct, and there is less opportunity for confusion.
2. Sticking to it
When you know what you want to say, use a bold statement and stick to it. Suppose you don’t get what you want to move to the next stage. Repeat your account or request calmly:
‘Joe, I’d like you to clean your room.’
‘Not now. I’m busy.’
‘I realise you’re busy; however, it won’t take you long.’
‘Joe, I’d like you to clean your room now.’
3. Human rights
Understanding that you have fundamental human rights, which apply to everyone: the rights are not. You have the right to:
- state your own needs
- be treated with respect
- express your feelings
- express your opinion and values
- say ‘yes’ or ‘no.
- make mistakes
- change your mind
- say I don’t understand
- ask for what you want (women often go along with what others want for the sake of peace)
- decide not to be responsible for other people’s problems
4. Using body language assertively
An assertive woman is emotionally honest and communicates this through her body:
- Stand straight, steady, and directly face the people you speak with while maintaining eye contact.
- Speak in a clear, steady voice –loud enough for the people you are speaking to hear you.
- Speak fluently, without hesitation, and with assurance and confidence.
To master the art of assertiveness means you need to increase the number of situations you can communicate assertively. Then keep practising your newfound skills to keep improving your health and well-being.