The MindingMe Guide to Becoming More Assertive
What is assertiveness?
Assertiveness is about maintaining our sense of self-worth and learning to stand up for ourselves and voice our opinions and feelings firmly, whilst also regarding the rights of others.
Why do we struggle to be assertive?
In order for the human race to survive, we have learnt to react to danger with an in built “fight or flight” response. So being assertive is not a natural response in human beings; it is easier for us to tackle threats head on (fight), or run away and hide (flight) because it is what we have always done.
Although these responses stood us in good stead in the past, they can cause problems now. We often struggle to distinguish ‘real’ dangers from the perceived dangers of modern living or the difficult situations we find ourselves in.
The “fight or flight” response affects our ability to be assertive because it encourages submissive or aggressive behaviour.
The good news is that there are a number of things we can do to change our behavioural response and choose assertion over aggression or submission. The following techniques can help us manage our behaviour more effectively.
1) Be clear in your own mind about what you want to say.
If you are not used to being assertive, it can be helpful to really think about what you want to say to the other person and the key message you want to get across. Sometimes people find it helpful to practice this with a friend or in front of a mirror first. When you need to be assertive, pause for thought before you say or do anything.
2) Watch your language.
The language we use is important when we want to ensure our communication is assertive. Take ownership, avoid blaming others and build cooperation by using words and terms such as ‘I’ ‘and’ ‘we’ ‘together’.
Avoid self-effacing phrases e.g., ‘sorry to interrupt’. Own your thoughts and feelings and don’t be afraid to state your needs clearly and confidently.
3) Take deep breaths.
If you are feeling anxious at the thought of being assertive, taking a few deep regular breaths will help you to feel much calmer. When we are calm, what we say sounds more assertive. When communicating, 38% of your message comes from your tone of voice, so it is important to keep this in check. With each breath relax your facial muscles, slow down the speed at which you talk, we tend to speed up when we are feeling anxious.
4) Give yourself positive messages.
We tend to underestimate the impact of our thoughts on our behaviour. There is a strong link between our mind and body and the way we think will impact strongly on how we react to a situation. So if you tell yourself ‘the other person is nasty’ and that ‘it’s all going to turn out really bad’, your behaviour will support your beliefs. You are more likely to act in an aggressive way towards that person and the interaction will be unpleasant.
You have got the power within yourself to choose how to respond in any given situation. You can change the negative messages to positive ones. Adopt a positive attitude towards yourself and the other person, tell yourself ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’. Fill your mind with positive affirmations; tell yourself you are a strong, confident and competent person. With enough practice this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. you will start to believe you are competent and confident and will behave in a more positive way towards them.
5) Get the other person's attention.
If you want to assert yourself, ensure you have the other person’s full attention before raising your concerns. E.g. If you want to make a complaint in a shop, wait until you have the shop assistants attention rather than shouting at them when they are busy with another task.
6) Acknowledge the other person's point of view.
Start off by reflecting an understanding of the other person’s position. Using positive language and acknowledging their position will encourage dialogue rather than confrontation.
For example, if your manager has imposed an unrealistic deadline on you, you could acknowledge their position by saying ‘The work we are doing now is for our biggest client and I appreciate your concern that we get the project complete on time’
7) State your own position.
It is important to follow this by stating your own position. E.g. ‘However, even if I work solely on this project, the time scale is unachievable if we are to produce good quality work.’
8) Offer a solution.
Sometimes, it is difficult to think of an alternative solution; however the outcome of your interaction is likely to be more successful if you think about the possibilities and what can be done.
9) Mind your body language.
Using appropriate body language is very important when we want to assert ourselves effectively. Remember to maintain eye contact with the other person but do not stare. Take care with hand movements as they can appear aggressive if used too much. Ensure you are both at the same level, i.e. both sitting down.
Being assertive will allow you to work towards the outcome you want in a measured way. It is a very effective negotiating tool and your self confidence will improve as you start to think and behave more assertively.