Assertiveness Techniques: How To Become More Assertive?
Navigating social and professional situations can be difficult at the best of times, but it becomes even harder when you feel as though you might be being taken advantage of, bullied, ignored, or suppressed in any other way.
One way to take back some control in these situations is to exercise assertiveness, expressing yourself more clearly, confidently, and constructively. Exercising assertiveness can reduce stress and social anxiety; improve your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues; and help you achieve more of your goals and aims.
What is assertiveness?
Assertiveness means a way of thinking and acting that respects your own wants, needs, and goals without encroaching on those of others, avoiding conflict and emphasizing compromise.
Assertive people express positive and negative ideas in a way that is open, honest, and direct, while avoiding and shutting down behavior that is manipulative, aggressive, or bullying. It also means being aware of your own behavior and not crossing the line into aggressiveness yourself.
There is a fine line between assertive and aggressive behavior. This is why it’s important to remain aware of your actions, read the room, and know when it is appropriate to act in certain ways.
The distinction between aggressive and assertive behavior is that:
- Aggressive behavior involves looking out for only your own self-interest, often at the expense of others.
- Assertive behavior involves sticking up for your own needs, goals, and rights while respecting those of others.
If you’re making an effort to be less passive, always be careful that you practice assertive behavior rather than aggression.
An example of assertive behavior would be to politely refuse a task when you already have a high workload, and offer a workable compromise such as doing it at a later date. A passive response would be to simply accept the task without contesting it, and an aggressive response would be to get angry and shout at them until they agreed to give the task to someone else.
What are the benefits of being assertive?
Assertiveness can help you take more control of your life, establishing healthier and more constructive personal and professional relationships by avoiding passivity.
By showing more respect to your own goals and needs, assertiveness can increase your self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-respect. It can also have several other benefits, such as:
- Stopping people from taking advantage of you.
- Helping you achieve your goals more effectively.
- Reducing self-doubt to help you act more decisively.
- Creating more constructive working relationships by enabling you to work towards your goals through compromise and win-win solutions.
- Improving your interpersonal skills and communication techniques.
- Enhancing your influencing skills to get what you want more often and improve your negotiating skills.
- Improving your leadership skills by demonstrating empathy, understanding, and fairness to make your team’s voices heard.
- Building emotional intelligence.
- Reducing stress and improving work-life balance.
All of this will also do wonders for your mental health, helping you reach a better mindset that can reduce social anxiety and depression. Assertiveness can help you to become a much healthier and happier person in general if you practice it effectively.
When to be cautious with assertiveness?
Although assertiveness is generally a positive trait to express, in some specific situations it may not be appropriate. Some people may not approve of assertive behavior, either for cultural reasons, personal feelings, or specific contexts.
It’s therefore important to read the room when you assert yourself. Don’t be afraid to test boundaries in order to stick up for yourself, but be aware that those boundaries are there and that crossing them may get you in trouble.
As stated above, always ensure your assertiveness doesn’t come across as aggression - you need to be mindful of those around you as well as of yourself.
How to be more assertive?
There are many tips and techniques to bear in mind when it comes to assertiveness to help you establish your goals and work towards them constructively. The following tips should provide you with the guidance you need to get started on your journey to becoming a more assertive person.
1. Recognize and navigate aggressive behavior
One of the key aspects of assertiveness is the ability to respond to unfair, negative, and often aggressive treatment in a healthy manner. You might experience two types of aggression:
- Directly aggressive communication: A directly aggressive style of communication might appear pushy, bullying, angry, or intolerant; such as shouting or acting intimidating.
- Passive-aggressive communication: Passive-aggressive behavior is more subtle and can often be manipulative, ambiguous, or guilt-tripping behavior that is designed to make one feel bad about themselves.
Whatever form the aggression takes, it is important not to react to it with passive communication or submissive behavior. That’s because it will simply reward the aggressor by letting them walk all over you and allow them to get what they want.
Your first step to learning assertive behaviors is to honestly reflect on when you have been treated in these ways in any area of your life. This means assessing things like:
- What did the person do to you?
- How did it make you feel?
- How did you respond?
- What was the result?
By recognizing aggressive behavior and understanding your response to it, you’ll be more equipped to react assertively to it in the future.
2. Drop passive behavior habits
Next, reflect on your own behavior, identifying situations where you tend to be passive and how this may affect your ability to reach your goals. Think about your wants, needs, and goals, and hold these in your mind as motivation to change your behavior.
You should then practice the way you want to look and sound in these situations in the future. This is known as ‘behavior reversal,’ which involves training yourself to change your behavior by establishing and practicing your ideal version of yourself.
Try role-playing different situations where you might be mistreated or met with aggressive behavior. And, don’t be afraid to get help. If you’re having a hard time with this, then you could consider taking an assertiveness training course that helps with teaching you to become a better communicator.
Finally, try to find ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone to change your behavior. For example, if you get anxious with public speaking, work on presentation skills and put yourself forward to deliver a presentation at work. This will allow you to break old habits and ultimately it’ll improve your leadership skills and self-confidence.
3. Stand up for yourself
Don’t back down if challenged repeatedly. Stand up for your own needs and goals and don’t allow anyone to manipulate you into giving in and giving them what they want through repeated insistence, guilt-tripping, or verbal traps.
Instead, use the ‘broken record technique,’ and keep repeating yourself to drive the point home and show the other person that you won’t be forced into backing down.
You might feel yourself getting angry or defensive and this is natural. Just make sure to remember to be in control of these emotions. Your assertiveness will be more effective if you remain calm and reasonable, expressing yourself directly and respectfully at all times.
4. Respond to criticism
You should accept feedback humbly, positively and assume responsibility. If you do happen to disagree with criticism that someone has given you — challenge it; make your case, but don’t get angry or defensive.
You could also try ‘fogging.’ This assertiveness technique involves acknowledging criticism, agreeing with it where you think there is some truth to it, and structuring your response to establish yourself as the judge of your actions.
5. Use positive expression
You should try to proactively discuss what you want with your colleagues or boss, rather than simply waiting for them to recognize your goals on their own. You can’t expect people to read your mind. Take initiative and clearly set out what your goals are so that they can help you work towards them.
Even if this involves talking about sensitive or difficult issues, you should approach discussions with a positive mindset. Remain sensitive and constructive, and look for a solution that works for you and the other person.
6. Be aware of what you say and how you say it
Try to plan ahead and decide in advance what you might say in particular situations where you might need to exercise assertiveness. Reflect on how what you say might make the other person feel, and anticipate their response accordingly.
Body language is as important as verbal language. For example, standing up straight shows that you’re focused and paying attention to the conversation. Try to maintain eye contact to emphasize sincerity and create a connection, and use gestures to emphasize your points.
Make sure you don’t get carried away with your body language and be mindful that you don’t cross the line from an assertive approach to aggressive and intimidating behavior. Be aware of your tone of voice as not only the way you speak, but the tone at which you speak can be interpreted differently and could come off aggressive, rather than assertive.
Another technique to practice is active listening. When the other person is talking, pay full attention to them, and show them you’re listening through verbal and physical affirmations, such as saying ‘I understand’ or nodding in agreement.
7. Assertive communication techniques
These tips are just scratching the surface when it comes to assertive behavior and there are plenty of other techniques that you could use. These include:
- Using ‘I’ statements: Put your point across firmly with direct ‘I’ statements, centering yourself and your goals in what you say.
- Escalation: Don’t be afraid to escalate things if aggressive behavior continues — this can mean verbal escalation, by asserting yourself more forcefully; or through formal structures like HR departments and disciplinary procedures.
- Assertive language: Use definite language like ‘will’ instead of ‘should’ or ‘could,’ and ‘need’ instead of ‘want.’
- Negative enquiry: This technique involves prompting people to express their honest feelings to get criticism and feedback into the open.
By learning skills like these, you can develop an even more effective assertive communication style while avoiding passive and aggressive behaviors.
Assertiveness takes time, but it’s more than worth the effort to establish assertive habits and let go of passive behavior. Taking responsibility for your own wants, needs, and goals through assertive behavior can help you in almost every part of your life. Start practicing assertiveness today.
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