Why Being Assertive is Important and How to Develop It

Before you start, it’s important to understand what being assertive means. Psychologists define assertiveness as being able to express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view while respecting the rights and beliefs of others, while maintaining control of one’s emotions (APA.org). The basis of assertiveness is mutual respect and honesty. Assertive communicators are straightforward and know how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Their relationships value and promote trust.

If you’re serious about living an authentic life and succeeding in reaching your goals, learning to be assertive is crucial. It’s one of the soft-skills that are needed to lead and survive in the workplace.

Think about how you feel about your life right now: Are you satisfied with your personal and professional situation? Are you conflict avoidant? Do you worry about what other people think of you? Do you tend to over-do and give to others but then get angry that you did?

If you’re not happy with where you are now, the good news is that assertiveness is a habit that can be learned just like any other. With practice and commitment, you can change your mindset and live a life more aligned with your true values and aspirations.

Try these tips for introducing a more assertive approach into your life:

  • Decide what your priorities are and stick to them.
  • Work out your individual boundaries i.e. what you will/will not accept from others or do for others
  • Develop a positive open posture and look people in the eye when you speak to them.
  • Use positive ‘I’ statements about how you’re feeling instead of blaming or finding fault with the other person. Be especially wary of feeling tempted to say words such as: ‘you always’ ‘you never’ ‘you should or you must’
  • Get comfortable with saying ‘no’ to things you don’t want to or can’t do. Keep it simple and non-emotive and don’t feel you need to add an excuse or explanation.
  • Only use ‘sorry’ when it’s appropriate for the situation. You don’t need to apologize for saying no.
  • Offer alternative suggestions to proposals you don’t like.
  • Look for compromises and negotiate on them
  • Be honest and direct about your feelings, thoughts, and intentions.
  • Consider writing a script for a situation that feels awkward. Rehearse being confident.

Try to keep your focus on the impact of the situation and finding a way to work together to find a mutually satisfying solution, which is where negotiation comes in to play; there is always a workable solution. Agreeing to disagree and learning to walk away from a situation will bring you inner peace.

Above all, being assertive means staying in your power, accepting that you have control over how you approach the situation and your feelings about it. Assertiveness won’t get you everything you want all the time, but you will feel in control and deal much better with situations that would have previously been stressful.

Getting Out of the "I don't know" Rut

Have you ever been asked a question by someone and found yourself answering “I don’t know”? I see this often, and have been guilty of it myself in the past. What I find is that in times of crisis – or when something feels that way – we may not really know an answer; it’s as if the brain freezes and we can’t find the words to express ourselves.
Another possibility is that we have the answer but we ‘really’ don’t want to say it, out of worry over the response from the person asking. It’s as if we already ‘know’ what they will say or how they will react – “I don’t want to hurt their feelings,’ or ‘They are going to be so mad at me.’ We are mind-reading at this point and predicting the result, both of which are defense mechanisms meant to protect us.
If we hurt another’s feelings, we then have to deal with the guilt or shame we may feel; if someone gets mad at our words or actions, we then have to atone or may hide from them if we avoid conflict. When we don’t like the negative feelings that may result in confronting a situation, we will do all we can to avoid it. There are some who fear the initial response from the other person that they either don’t think about or don’t care that the end-result can be worse if the person finds out. So, I don’t know becomes not telling you how much you slighted me, to now dealing with you’re not speaking to me.
The funny thing is, as well, that we do this with ourselves. We hide our own feelings when we don’t want to be disappointed, get angry, get hurt, etc. How many times do you say “I don’t know” when asked where you want to go eat or what you want for dinner?  We do have the answers but are fearful of saying them, which is the task at hand:

  • go back and look at all the times when you said or thought, “I don’t know” – tally them up and you may be surprised at how often we say this phrase (i.e. ‘what do I want to eat”‘ ‘what time do I want to get up?’ etc.)
  • asses these times and who was involved; what were the underlying thoughts or fears that you are afraid to let out. These are the root-causes(s) and now can be dealt with
  • Now, take each of these situations and reframe them with saying what is really on your mind, not worrying about the response or the result. See how it ‘feels.’ Come up with assertive responses to resolve the issue

Those are some simple but effective steps to finally be able to say your thoughts/feelings and no worry about the reactions you gt. Being assertive means you can express yourself but you are not doing it at the expense of someone else. By using these steps, you can now feel free by releasing “I don’t know” from your vocabulary and feel freer to be you.

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