So, if I was in Police Academy, I would be Hooks. Timid and shy, she sometimes has trouble getting people to listen to her. When pushed to her limit, however, frustration gets the better of her and she becomes overly aggressive.
We have all been in situations where our ideas have been shot down, or research was ignored, or designs weren’t implemented properly. There are times when we feel like if we had been listened to, things would have gone better.
This problem persists until you stand up for yourself and making your voice count.
How Does This Affect Women?
I can’t say that this is just limited to being a gender thing. There is a lot of discussion around whether being assertive is not “characteristically feminine”. This is blaming the problem on something that is out of your control. If you want to be assertive, it’s possible to learn how. I’ve seen women who have absolutely no trouble in asserting themselves across a big team. I’ve also seen men struggle to assert themselves around women.
Why do some people lack Assertiveness?
This problem stems from when we were young – and whether we were the ones being pushed around the school playground, or if we were ones doing the pushing.
Some of us grew up ‘under the radar’ – fearing the backlash created by standing up for ourselves. Maybe we were told it was selfish to think of ourselves before others.
What I do believe is that everyone can benefit from being able to assert themselves around stronger personalities. It doesn’t mean you have to turn into a bitch to get things done. In order to get a better understanding of what can be achieved through being more assertive, let’s get a better understanding of assertiveness.
What Is Assertiveness?
What is important to remember is that being assertive is not the same as being aggressive.
Assertiveness is a style of communication. Assertiveness is a state of
mind. People who are assertive can calmly and clearly make their
If you have ever felt like a doormat, or made to feel guilty for not doing something for someone, the chances are that situation could have been resolved with assertive techniques. Friends, colleagues or partners who are used to your passive personality may be shocked by your newly found assertiveness, but it will have an enormous effect on your self-esteem.
With all of this in mind, here are 10 steps you can take to start being more assertive.
1. Identify the Areas that Need Work
It might be helpful to identify the areas of your life where you feel you need to show more assertiveness. Are you annoyed with a friend when they don’t pay their share of the dinner? Or your mother-in-law for always visiting uninvited or unannounced?
Being more assertive is about letting other people know where you draw the line. They’re not going to know unless you tell them, and in the long-term this will actually help your relationship. When you assert yourself, resentfulness doesn’t build up.
So when you know which areas of your life you wish to assert yourself, you can start planning how you are going to do it.
2. List the Desired Outcomes
It’s not enough that person X makes you angry, you will need a clear idea of what exactly makes you angry, and what needs to happen so that it doesn’t happen again. Make a mental note of exactly what it is that is making you feel like a doormat.
While you might be angry at a manager or a friend, the actual problem might be something else. Maybe you’re angry because you were asked to work for the 3rd weekend in a row? Maybe you’re angry because someone volunteered you to help out on a project. Maybe you are tired of someone who wants free design work all the time. Maybe someone made you feel guilty for not spending time with them?
Whatever it is, try to isolate the specific thing that is making you feel angry, guilty or resentful.
When you know the thing to stand up against, it’s time to start changing your thinking.
3. Change Your Thinking
Assertiveness is a state of mind. It’s not anger, or hate, or panic. It is a relaxed and balanced road that ultimately leads to greater self-esteem and self respect.
People who are assertive are not allowing others to take advantage of them. They can do this without getting angry or upset. When you stand up for yourself, people will see you in a new way, and this will in turn increase your self respect.
Stop resenting the people in your life who are asking you to do things you don’t want to do. Start to think about yourself a bit more.
One of the problems I hear is that people who stand up for themselves are made to feel ‘selfish’. It’s not selfish to say ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do. People who make you feel guilty for saying ‘no’ are not thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves. For that reason, they are the ones who are being selfish.
Don’t let people coerce you into doing things you don’t want. You make your own decisions from now on. One way to make your own decisions is to have your own plans.
4. Make Your Own Plans
One of the greatest things you can do is to have your own plans. If you don’t have your own plans, you will find yourself getting wound up in other peoples plans.
When I decided to focus on my career, I had to start telling my party-girl friends “I really can’t go out this weekend, I’m doing a project for my masters degree”. They respected that I had something else that I wanted to do. I used to feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to them, but they understood that I now had other plans.
Make your own plans.
If you’re upset that a certain friend is treating your poorly, or a manager is taking advantage of you, the best possible thing you can do is start creating your own plans. This might be that you plan to take a class to improve your skills, or start working out to get in better shape. When you value yourself more, other people will too.
People will only take advantage of you if they feel you have no choice.
This is a classic negotiation technique – people will only take advantage of you if they feel you have no choice. Bullies pick on people as long as they think they will get away with it. From now on, you will not be the prey. You will work on yourself until you are in control of your situation.
Get in shape, take a class, learn a new skill, work on side projects, attend meetups to meet more amazing friends, or schedule coffee with people you haven’t seen in a while. Take control of whatever area you are struggling with- whether it’s home or work life. When you are no longer at the mercy of the person pushing you around, they will usually back off.
5. Practice Verbal Assertiveness
If you’re tired of doing unpaid overtime because you’re the only person on the team who doesn’t have kids, know before hand what the response is going to be next time the manager expects you to stay late.
You will need to have an idea of what you are going to say before you take the person aside in private to tell them clearly that you are not going to be taken advantage of again. There are some examples at the end of this article that can get you inspired regarding the phrasing, but the important thing is to practice what you are planning to say.
“I would like you to stop speaking to me in that way. It’s disrespectful, and it hurts my feelings.”
6. Use the First Person Singular
Focus on the “I” in this case. This is just about you, and not anyone else. Don’t try to shift the responsibility away. Saying “it would be better for us” is leaving the statement open to allow other people to weigh in.
This is not their problem, this is your problem. Using the “I” in this case will show that you are taking responsibility for your own feelings. The other person will know that it is you alone who was made to feel uncomfortable, guilty or annoyed. Don’t hide behind others in this case.
7. Don’t Leave The Other Person Hanging
This isn’t a question and answer section of the talk, this is the talk. You will not end the discussion with an opening for a reply or rebuttal. Avoid unnecessary padding or complicating the statement. This is a call-to-action. Be calm, clear and decisive. Know what you want, and don’t leave the statement open to interpretation or discussion. The following are examples of Basic Assertion, and are more suited to the workplace.
“I am unable to work late. I need to finish at 6pm.” – It’s not like anyone can argue with that. You shouldn’t have to provide an excuse or rationale to not work late. If that is the case, maybe the problem isn’t you, maybe it’s them…
“I would appreciate if you did not address me like that again.” – What could anyone say to that?
“The cost of the design work will be €2,000.” – Any self respecting business person would make this clearly known.
When you know what you want to say, and who to say it to, the next step would be to practice verbal assertiveness.
8. Practice Non-Verbal Assertiveness
Maintain direct eye contact (but don’t be creepy about it). When you’re talking to someone, look them in the eye. Stand facing them, straight ahead with an open body stance. Don’t fold your arms (this is a defensive measure) but keep your hand gestures open and relaxed.
Try not to come across as too robotic or rehearsed – it’s important to smile when you’re pleased and frown when you’re angry. Actively listen to them if they have something to say, like a reason or an apology.
9. Use the Appropriate Type of Assertion
There are times, however, where it’s not appropriate to treat the situation in a businesslike way. Sometimes, empathy needs to play a role. This is usually when you need to assert yourself and bring your emotions into the fold. You can draw attention to the negative effect their past behaviour is having on you – there is a chance they had no idea they were being disrespectful.
“Thank you for visiting in last week. However, it was short notice. I would appreciate in future if you could let me know when you are going to call.”
10. Focus on the Pay-offs
Yes, this will undoubtedly make you feel uncomfortable at first. Standing up to people is something that can be incredibly difficult to do, especially if it has resulted in pain or discomfort in the past. For this reason, it’s helpful to focus on the pay-offs. What are the positive results
Yes, this will undoubtedly make you feel uncomfortable at first. Standing up to people is something that can be incredibly difficult to do, especially if it has resulted in pain or discomfort in the past. For this reason, it’s helpful to focus on the pay-offs. What are the positive results?
One way to grow into a more assertive person is to keep track of the times you were assertive, and how it made you feel. What was the positive impact of setting boundaries? What did you get out of standing up to the overly critical boss, or the difficult client?
Remember, the more you start to stand up for yourself, the more people will respect you and your boundaries. The more they respect you, the higher your self-esteem.
Here are some examples of assertion to inspire you.
“Last week, you said that we needed to optimise the checkout, but now you are saying we should focus on the sign up flow. I would like to clarify which is the priority.”
“You asked me to stay and finish the project by Monday, which involved me working at the weekend. I was very annoyed by this, so in future I would like to receive the creative brief by Thursday at the latest.”
“When you interrupt my presentations, it disrupts my flow and puts me off. I would prefer if you could hold your questions until the end in future.”
“I know that this project has been stressful for everyone, but I would appreciate next time if you did not criticise the design work. We are all working as hard as we can, and creating extra tension is having an impact on our performance as a team.”
If you’re interested in this topic in general, here is a great course on assertiveness. It really helped me a lot, let me know if it helps you too!