Assertiveness can help you confidently express yourself and stand up for your viewpoint, whilst respecting the opinions and feelings of others. Although some people are naturally assertive, many of us have to learn these skills as we navigate our way through life. To give you a head start, we’ve outlined some useful tips about how to get better at being assertive.
What is assertiveness?
Assertiveness is when a person is direct and honest about their needs and wants, while still taking into account and respecting the rights, needs and wants of others. Being assertive is a communication skill. It allows you to confidently give your opinions, and ask for what you need. It also enables you to disagree respectfully and say ‘no’ to others without feeling guilty, or being rude.
What isn’t assertiveness?
Assertiveness has nothing to do with being aggressive, being loud, being mean or telling people what to do.
How to be more assertive
Being assertive is closely tied with self-confidence - you have to be comfortable in your own beliefs and values to put them forward in the first place. Of course, none of these are traits that you can just wish into existence, they take some work.
Understand your style
Do you generally tend to leave your opinions and feelings unheard? Or are you someone who’d argue with their shadow? The first step towards being assertive is to understand your current approach. Think about some recent interactions where you wanted to be assertive - what thoughts and feelings did you have at the time? How do you wish you’d behaved or responded? This understanding gives you a good starting point.
Learn to say ‘no’
Although being agreeable and keeping any differing opinions to yourself can make you seem nice to others, it can also mean that you don’t often get what you deserve. Some people might also grow to think that you’re easily persuaded and take advantage of that. You can’t possibly be agreeable to everyone all the time, so sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to requests. Find a compromise if you can, but don’t feel that you should always put the needs of others above your own. Setting limits is an essential part of developing personal and professional relationships.
Use ‘I’ statements
You can assert a point of view without being accusatory or confrontational. ‘I’ statements can help with this: for example, rather than saying ‘you’re wrong about this’, try instead saying ‘I disagree with your view on this.’
Think about body language
There’s a lot more to being assertive than just the words you use. How you say your point and the body language you use can go a long way towards backing up your what you’re saying. Use a calm voice that’s appropriately loud for the environment you’re in. Stand or sit up straight and lean in slightly to show you’re engaged and confident. Make good eye contact with the person you’re talking with, and avoid crossing your arms, or looking at the ground. Keep a neutral expression and choose a smile rather than a frown where appropriate.
Keep it simple
When broaching a delicate topic, it can be tempting to waffle, or talk your way around the subject. This can make you appear nervous and shy. Instead, keep your point simple, concise and direct. If you have the opportunity to, plan what you’re going to say in advance, and practice it.
Examples of assertiveness
We’ve outlined two scenarios that demonstrate assertiveness as opposed to aggressive or passive behaviour:
A friend asks you to go over and help them with their homework, but you’re feeling run-down and need some rest.
Passive: ‘Umm, okay, I guess I can.’
Aggressive: ‘You always want me to help you, why don't you think about me?’
Assertive: ‘I understand you need help, and I’d like to, but today I’m feeling really run-down and need to rest. I can come over tomorrow if that works for you?’
You’re supposed to meet your friend in town, but they cancel five minutes after you’re supposed to meet. You rearrange, but the same thing happens again. You message them saying:
Passive: ‘Hey, let me know when you can meet up again.’
Aggressive: ‘You always let me down.’
Assertive: ‘It makes me feel a little upset when you cancel like this, like I’m not a priority. Is something going on with you, and can I help?’