Being assertive is the ability to express one’s feelings and needs clearly and confidently without disrespecting others. Being assertive is a healthy adult characteristic that enables you to be more direct and get closer to the things you really want.
But what happens when you feel like you aren’t assertive enough, or that you constantly have to explain yourself to others, ending up feeling guilty for merely expressing your thoughts?
What assertiveness is all about
Being assertive is all about balance – it means putting yourself first without undermining others. In the end, it’s a win-win. But you have to be confident in order to be truly assertive.
While some people might see assertiveness as closer to winning or coming first, it’s important to acknowledge that being assertive is not the same as being competitive or aggressive.
There is a subtle art to assertiveness, and you can practice it until it becomes your second nature; until you no longer have to “try” to be assertive, you just are.
The benefits of being assertive
Assertiveness is a lifelong skill you really want to build. Not only does it help you negotiate in tough situations, but it also builds character and makes people respect you more. You don’t have to be liked by everyone, but if you are assertive, you will be respected.
Assertiveness is a great skill to have if you want to be a manager at work, and if you want to focus on good problem-solving. It’s a skill that comes in handy in most of life’s toughest situations and it helps you stick to your values and beliefs.
Being assertive versus being nice
There is a limitation to being nice when it comes to personal and professional relationships. Being too nice can lead to a lot of interpersonal problems, such as:
- People taking you for granted
- People treading all over you because they assume you won’t care
- People asking you to do stuff for them all the time
- People disrespecting you
Of course, nice people are awesome. They are easy to talk to, fun to be around, they make everyone feel better. But when a nice person lacks the assertiveness to speak their mind, they can easily turn to be too nice for their own good, which becomes a disadvantage.
If you are too nice you probably just go along with whatever anyone says, and you don’t dare disagree too much. You don’t want to make a fuss or be confrontational. You feel like being assertive just isn’t part of your nature.
It’s something you see in others but you just don’t have the guts. It’s time to change that mindset! Here are 14 ways to be more assertive in life.
1. Build your self-confidence
One of your limitations that prevents you from becoming your most assertive self is your lack of self-confidence. You are desperate for people’s approval. You want to be liked so badly that you play along and keep being nice, even when you don’t reap any benefits from it.
The first step to building your self-confidence is to find your self-worth in all that you are, not in what other people think about it. It’s as simple as that. You have to be good enough for yourself. You have to learn to love yourself. This is the source of all long-lasting self-esteem.
There is no way you can be your true and most authentic self if you are enslaved to other people’s opinions of you. With great self-esteem, you will find it easier to tune out other people’s unnecessary opinions.
2. Have courage
Courageous people are assertive people. They don’t let anyone tell them how they should live their lives, what they should think or say. Wouldn’t you want to have the courage to be that person, all day, every day?
Building courage starts by opening to the very real threat of having tough, courageous conversations with other people. They are tough because they:
- Require a lot of vulnerability
- Require a strong character
- Lead to a lot of self-discovery and growth
- May end up causing some hard feelings
- Are unpredictable
Have more courageous conversations with the people close in your life. Watch how that process changes you, and how it changes them.
3. Learn assertiveness techniques
Most people aren’t born assertive, but if you are an adult who still lacks assertiveness, don’t beat yourself up. There are plenty of techniques you can use to build your character.
Here are two of them:
- Personalise your communication
Meaning instead of using blame or attacking language to address how someone made you feel (e.g., “You are a jerk!”), use language from first-person perspective (e.g., “I feel disrespected by you”).
This is less about finger-pointing and more about emotional language. This will result in less defensiveness from the other person and hopefully more understanding.
- Address the behaviour, not the person
If you address someone as an individual when expressing your feelings, you are attaching bad behavior to them as a label. Instead, choose to see it from another perspective and address the behavior. You are not canceling the person, just pointing out room for improvement.
4. Watch your body language
Half of what we say is non-verbal and is expressed through our body language, posture, and eye contact. If you want to be seen as an assertive person, you need to first look like one.
That means being prepared, especially before going into a difficult conversation or a situation that you find particularly challenging or stressful.
Adopt an assertive body stance so you feel taller, more confident, and powerful. Stand up straight and roll your shoulders back. Remember to maintain regular eye contact and don’t use laughter as a defense mechanism, so you don’t undermine what you say.
You can be assertive and still exude warmth with your body language. Don’t forget your kindness and human side.
5. Set boundaries
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try with some people, they will make you feel small and insignificant, and you will end up feeling like you’ve failed your assertiveness challenge. Don’t despair!
Set boundaries instead. Whether that’s with friends, family, or your manager. Be clear about what’s acceptable and what’s non-negotiable. Find a better way of working and you will feel a lot more confident.
6. Tackle social anxiety
Another common reason for lacking assertiveness is social anxiety. If the mere thought of being in a big group of people makes you feel small, then you probably should just avoid those groups and start with baby steps.
Get yourself out of your shell by telling someone when you enjoyed talking to them, so they know it’s safe to approach you, no matter the non-verbal cues you may be giving everyone.
Get the idea that assertive means loud, aggressive, and obnoxious out of your head and mirror someone that you admire, who excused charisma and confidence.
7. Quit being a pushover
Assertiveness is the skill you need in order to move beyond niceness. It will help you show people that you know your worth. You demand to be valued and nothing less. Quit being a pushover and a people-pleaser, it’s not an attractive trait in the 21st century.
8. Own the room
If you want to master the art of assertiveness, you will have to learn how to own the room, no matter what room you are in. That means no more shying away from the spotlight or making yourself look small.
Grab hold of opportunities to speak in front of people. Practice presenting in front of bigger groups. Express your opinion without feeling inadequate. It will be a total game-changer. The more you do it, the easier it will get.
There are some brilliant books on the market which tackle the topic of women empowerment, confidence and specifically owning the room. Grab yourself one and start practicing.
9. Get a raise at work
One of the best ways to practice your assertiveness is to work your way up to a pay rise and then demand it from your boss. There’s no point sitting and waiting for it when you know you deserve it.
Build your case and speak to your boss about it. No ifs and no buts. Be the confident woman you want to be and get what you are worth.
Practicing in advance might really help with this, whether that’s with a friend or your partner or simply on your own in front of the mirror. It will help you pick up that courage and feel prepared when the situation arrives.
You’d be surprised how much easier it is to get what you want when you simply ask for it directly. Trust us, your male colleagues are already doing it and getting their way.
10. Stop apologising
Women apologize way too much. It’s just how we are raised. We constantly say “sorry” for all sorts of stuff, even when we have nothing to be sorry about. Challenge yourself not to apologize for anything for a day and see how that makes you feel. Is it really that hard?
It will probably feel a little awkward at first, but you will also feel a lot more empowered. It’s such a tiny behavior change but it will totally shift your frame of mind and make you feel more confident about who you are.
11. Let go of the past
One of the things that are holding you back from being your most assertive self in the past. So let go of any emotional baggage, guilt, or regret about the past and focus on your present and the future you want to build for yourself.
If you are still heartbroken over the one that got away, delete his number and go on a date with someone new. Don’t hold grudges against friends who have angered you. The more you let go of the negativity that’s holding you down, the more confident you will become.
12. Speak simply
The more direct you are with your communication style, the easier it will be for people to understand you. Don’t talk in code, don’t hint at things, or use sarcasm and passive-aggressiveness to make a point. You are only hurting yourself.
Want to be taken seriously? Use communication to show your power. Be concise and direct. Make your point and be done with it. Use “I” instead of generalizing.
13. Get a mentor
It will help you make massive progress if you get yourself a mentor. Someone you admire a lot, who’s confident and assertive. It helps if it’s a female, but it isn’t a must. You just have to trust them and follow their advice.
A huge part of your path to being more assertive is about being prepared. When we are prepared, we are so much more confident and straightforward with our communication.
14. Get a makeover
If everything else fails and you are still not feeling confident enough, perhaps it’s time to change up your look a bit. Clothes, make-up, and hair have the power to transform your life, literally. But you need to make sure you are wearing the right clothes, looking your best self.
Here are a few tips for getting a bit dolled up:
- Open your closet and be as honest as you can about your style, what you wear, what you hate wearing, and what your style says about who you are and how you want to be perceived by people.
- Get a professional makeup and see how it makes you feel. Invest in quality products and don’t be afraid to put some bold red lipstick on.
- Change your hairstyle. Especially if you’ve had the same hairstyle for years. A new fabulous cut will make you feel 10 times more attractive and confident.