How we can become more assertive

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Why is it that some people get noticed, have great interviews, seem to have strong relationships, and generally have what they want? Whilst others can’t seem to overcome shyness or “invisibility” in group settings or receive recognition for contributions at work? Why don’t we feel more confident? And why don’t we openly disagree or say “no” when we want or need to?

Maybe we need to be a little more assertive? Assertiveness can enhance the quality of our lives and here are some tips to help make that happen:

What is assertiveness?

Quality of life comes from being who we want to be. The realisation of dreams, the reaching of potential, and the fulfilment of lasting and loving relationships – all depend upon individual honesty and our ability to respond effectively to others – on our own terms.

Assertiveness is the ability to navigate relationships without being passive or aggressive. It is the quality of being confident and self-assured and is a learnable skill.

Assertiveness, however, is not just about self-realisation. It also recognises and respects the personal boundaries of others whilst allowing us to communicate in a way that satisfies our own needs. That is the secret to assertiveness.

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa

So, what’s involved with “assertiveness?” How can we be more assertive? Is it just about how we talk and act with others? Actually, it consists of a few elements. And it starts with attitude.

Develop attitude:

“All you need is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

Mark Twain, author.

Confidence starts with attitude. We have to speak and act in a manner that says we “own” our beliefs and actions: that we have a “right” to say what we think and act how we want to act.

Whilst we may not agree with others, our thoughts are valid and we recognise others’ ideas are valid too. This kind of “fair” thinking gives us the authority to speak for ourselves.

And this sense of fairness should lessen negative feedback from others or claims of us being aggressive. Our self-assuredness will be engaging and will encourage others to respond favourably. People will also sense our confidence and expect us to speak our mind.

Information is power:

We can be assertive in conversations without being aggressive. If we identify what the conversation will be about, we can consider ideas or suggestions beforehand and be ready to talk about them. Generating new ideas and alternative solutions to problems is a great way to be assertive.

By knowing our subject, taking initiative in discussing it, and both asking and answering questions, we are putting ourselves at – or a little higher than – the level of conversation of other participants.

Raise your hand:

Volunteering is a great way to assert ourselves, and it occurs in many forms. At work, if the boss is seeking a volunteer, we can be the first to raise our hand. That’s an obvious one. But in meetings, we can also offer by being the first to ask or answer a question or make a comment. We can lead a task team or compile a report.

When we stimulate discussion, we are in fact the leader of that discussion. We have asserted ourselves and our ideas into the conversation and someone will notice.

Learn it’s OK to say NO:

In the haste to become assertive, however, don’t make the mistake of becoming a “yes” person. Agreeing with someone else, especially the boss, doesn’t mean we are being assertive. It’s OK to say “no” if that’s how we genuinely feel.

Saying “no” gives the chance to present our own suggestions. It makes us stand out from the crowd and demonstrates independent thinking.

Be upfront – literally:

Another opportunity to be assertive comes from – believe it or not – where we sit.

Foremost, it’s good if we’re invited to the meeting table; it means someone cares about our input.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

Elizabeth Warren, American politician.

And now it’s time for us to sit in the front row. But what if it’s a conference room with a long table? Well, sitting near the manager or meeting organiser shows assertiveness. It’s like “sitting at the right hand” of power. It implies a sharing of that power, and it’s a subtle but effective form of assertiveness.

But how far should we go?

So, we’re going to be more assertive. But how far should we go before we’re being too aggressive? The key is to get some degree of agreement from others. Make suggestions. Ask for agreement or permission. Say “what do you think?” Or say, “Do you think this will work?” Be assertive in the spirit of cooperation.

Here are a few tips for being assertive when encountering opposition to our ideas and feelings:

  • Agree in part with the other person (compromise) without giving up on your overall principle
  • Ask the other person to be more specific in his or her objection
  • Restate our idea as being your opinion without casting blame anywhere

So give these techniques a go! Used consistently, they can help develop assertiveness to showcase our ideas and maintain relationships – all without being aggressive.

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