Being assertive means taking control of your life, asking for what you want and saying no to what you don’t, while always considering the feelings of those around you. In this way you can change your life and the lives of others for the better.
It might seem that assertiveness is a quality that some people are born with and others can never achieve. In fact, being assertive is a skill, which means that it can be learnt, practised and perfected. With guidance and training, you can become a more assertive person who communicates confidently with others and makes the most of opportunities.
Here we are going to get you started with a few top tips:
- Be assertive but not aggressive
- Be clear and direct
- Use body language and tone of voice
- Listen actively
- Reflect and practise
1. Be assertive but not aggressive
Assertiveness is often misunderstood. Although being assertive means taking control and having an impact on others, it does not mean doing this in an aggressive or thoughtless way. Aggression is a negative behaviour which is not only bad for our own state of mind, but also unlikely to get results. After all, people usually respond to aggression by becoming defensive or aggressive themselves, or else upset and demoralised. It is impossible to achieve your goals when people who you need to work with feel this way.
However, the other extreme, passivity, is just as ineffective. Being passive means agreeing with people in order to avoid conflict, being quiet and withdrawn, and possibly indifferent to other people’s concerns. This won’t help you to make an impact and could even lead you into some situations you would rather avoid.
Assertiveness means a positive balance between these types of behaviour. For example, you should have confidence in yourself while understanding other people’s views – these ideas do not contradict one other. The behavioural choices we make have a big impact on how we are perceived others and on our how they respond to us, so we need to find the right balance in order to achieve our goals.
2. Be clear and direct
At times we all find ourselves saying things that we don’t really mean in order to avoid trouble or couching what we say in excuses and apologies. Not only is this often dishonest, but it can make us seem submissive, insecure, and easy to manipulate That’s why assertive people try to be clear and direct in what they say.
For example, if we really want to say no to a request, it can be tempting to say yes out of politeness or to say no in an unclear, apologetic way. When you want to say no, follow this sequence from EtonX’s Making an Impact course:
- Acknowledge the request – show that you have understood what the other person has asked and why.
- Give a short but not abrupt reply – you don’t need to give an extensive justification for saying no, you just need to be clear and concise.
- Don’t make excuses or apologise – as long as your reason for saying no is honest and reasonable, there is no need to make excuses or apologise for it.
- Ask for more time if you need it – it’s OK to ask for more time to consider your response, as long as you don’t do this in order to avoid making a decision.
Being assertive means being clear and direct in a polite and respectful way. For example, rather than saying “Your idea is terrible”, you could say, “I feel that my idea would be more effective”. Both statements are honest, but one is aggressive while the other is assertive. The Huffington Post has some more information on how you can empower yourself with “I” language.
3. Use body language and tone of voice
Of course, you can say exactly what you mean clearly and respectfully, but if you do this while talking quietly, avoiding eye contact and looking at the floor, then it is unlikely to have much impact. Assertiveness is not just about what you do, it’s about how you do it.
To get you started, remember the following when communicating with people:
- Eye contact – Eye contact is the key to human communication, as the Evenesis blog has explored. Looking people in the eye both asserts your strength and shows compassion and genuine interest. Try not to be too intense, of course – constant eye contact can be intimidating.
- Tone of voice – A calm but confident tone of voice allows your message to come across clearly. Try to avoid the extremes of quiet mumbling or angry yelling.
- Body language – Crossed arms or hunched shoulders can show aggression or weakness, neither of which strike the right balance. By contrast, sitting or standing up straight with a relaxed, open posture shows that you’re ready to talk and take action but also willing to listen.
Good use of eye contact, tone of voice and body language when communicating with others is vital if you want to inspire confidence and influence them. Remember that this applies when you are speaking as well as when you are listening.
4. Listen actively
It might seem surprising that being assertive means focusing on the person you are dealing with. There are many reasons for this. You will find people respond better to you if they know you are really listening to them. You will also be better able to work out how to put your point across by understanding the other person’s opinions and feelings.
What does this mean in practice? Here are a few starter tips for active listening and responding:
- Focus your attention – Focus on nothing else but the person speaking. Put your phone away, make eye contact and tune out all distractions.
- Show you are listening – Nodding, smiling at the right junctures, and giving encouraging feedback such as ‘yes’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘I see’ all shows that you are listening.
- Ask questions – If you need further information or clarification to understand what someone is saying, don’t be afraid to ask.
- Summarise what you have heard – This is a great way of ensuring that you have understood the other person’s meaning. It also gives you time to think about the best way to phrase your response.
MindTools.com has some further helpful advice about active listening. It is all about really listening and not just hearing other people. Active listening will lead others to feel more valued, and this will in turn lead to greater mutual respect. The truly confident and assertive individual knows how and when to listen.
5. Reflect and practise
Becoming more assertive does not happen overnight. Remember, all the best skills take time to learn, and so practice and patience are required. One very useful tool is reflection. Take time to think back over the situations where you found you weren’t making an impact in the way you wanted. Rather than brooding about how you didn’t get what you wanted, think about how you may have come across to the other person. What body language and tone of voice did you use? Think about what they said. Were you really listening so that you were able to make your points more clearly based on their point of view?
You might even want to keep an Assertiveness Journal in which you note down these situations. It might help you to spot patterns in your behaviour and work out which of the tips above are the most helpful for you.
Through reflection and practice, you will gradually be able to build your confidence and assertiveness. Not only will this make you ready for any difficult situations which arise, but it will also give you a healthier framework for dealing with every day life and the people around you at home, work or college.
For further information and guidance about being assertive, check out our Making an Impact course and get started on the road to being more assertive and to making an impact in life.