We covered what being assertive is and isn’t in the last blog, but how do we become more assertive if it doesn’t come naturally? Follow these five steps to help you take your assertiveness skills up a notch.
1. Work out what you want
There’s no point in learning to behave assertively, if you don’t actually know what it is you want; no point in arguing over a payment rate if you don’t know what is acceptable and nothing to be gained from getting your choice of restaurant agreed by a group if you don’t even know if the food is any good!
If you haven’t already done so, the first step to being assertive is to set yourself some clear goals and targets and work out how important they are to you, and what it will mean to you to achieve them. This is also where the motivation to go for what you want comes from.
Think about areas or situations in which you think you could be more assertive – times when you could have kicked yourself for not speaking or equally destructive, when you unnecessary lost your rag with someone and suffered (possibly quite rightly) as a results. Once you’ve identified some of these, make up your mind to substitute the passive/aggressive/passive-aggressive behaviour with more assertive tactics. This may take a bit of practise but keep trying until you experience better results both in what happens and how you feel about your new, self-respectful self.
2. Get into the right mind-set
It’s all very well sorting out what you want, but if you are running some programme in your head that says, going for what you want is ‘selfish’, or ‘not for the likes of you,’ this will get in the way.
Be honest with yourself and take some time to think about what the downside of getting your goals might be. Sometimes we worry we will lose our friends, or that it will change who we actually are. We may be worried this path will disappoint someone we really care about.
Only by being honest and getting our fears out in the open and admitting they are concerns, will you be able to address them rationally and emotionally, and put them to rest.
If you think getting what you want is selfish or somehow you’re undeserving, imagine being your own best friend listening to you saying that. What would your best friend say?
Understand it’s not personal, apart from when it is! Obviously everything we do is about relationship, but many of us assume that to stick up for ourselves professionally is hard to do and still be liked. I would argue that this is not true - being professionally assertive is likely to gain you respect. Respect is a fantastic foundation for being liked once you’ve got all the business negotiations out of the way.
Be confident in what you want and flexible about what may be possible. This is an incredibly powerful combination.
3. Take responsibility
Who’s driving the bus?
It’s unlikely that anyone is going to take you gently aside, tell you to grab a coffee and relax while they sort out all the problems in your life. So why do so many of us act as though this is a possibility, and stand back allowing others to take major decisions in many areas of our life.
Sticking up for yourself is not pushy, it’s simply recognising that at the end of the day you, and only you, will have to deal with the consequences of your actions and decisions.
Feel the power
None of us have control over everything that happens in our lives, but we are all in charge of how we react to it, and for the choices we make as a result.
Bad things happen to all of us at some time, we can’t make people employ us, or stop them from closing productions or publications. There are many events completely outwith our control, which happen to us all. However, we always have choices. The first choice we have to make is whether to feel like a victim and do nothing, or whether to say, OK, this has happened, what can I do right now to move myself forward?
When something bad happens, you can choose whether to make it a blip or major catastrophe. It may not be easy, but it’s possible. Basically, you’ve got that power! If you want a musical accompaniment to this sentiment, click this link and turn up the volume and enjoy a quick burst of “I’ve got the power” by Snap!
4. Behaving assertively
There are many ways we can learn to behave more assertively, we have highlighted some key ones below:
Two heads are better than one
Be clear about what you want and why and spend time understanding what others are trying to achieve. It may be that you can find common ground that will give you both enough of what you want - to make a compromise possible. Always approach things as a joint problem solver, not an adversary.
Use language that shows you are taking responsibility
Use ‘I’ language, as in, “I need…”, “I want…”, “ I feel….”.
When sentences start with “You,” you are not speaking from the position you know most about, and the other person may feel you are blaming, or shifting responsibility onto them. For example:
1. “I need to make enough money on this job to cover my living expenses.”
versus: “You need to offer me enough money for me to cover my living expenses.”
2. “I’m not sure I want to get involved in this project.”
versus: “You are trying to get me to commit to something I’m not sure about.”
3. “I’m torn because this is a great opportunity but the pay is lower than I expected.”
versus: “You know it’s a great job so you’re trying to pressurise me into accepting a low a pay rate.”
In some cases the differences can be quite subtle, but if you put yourself on the receiving end of these sentences, you will immediately feel how differently they come across.
Sticking with “I,” also makes it much harder to argue with. No-one can disagree with how you feel, or what you say you need or want, but if you tell other people what they need or want, or suggest they can control how you feel, then that can sound aggressive.
Don’t feel obliged to respond immediately
Take time out before responding to something if you feel too angry or upset to deal with it immediately. Being assertive doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotions, you just don’t allow them to drive the situation. It is always an option to say: ‘I’m not sure how I feel about this currently. I’ll get back to you later.’
5. Learn to say “no”
Being able to say no politely, especially when there is an element of obligation attached to a request, is the ‘Gold Standard’ in assertive land. Most of us have our Achilles heel, where we repeatedly end up doing things we don’t want to do, helping out when we don’t really have the time or resources to, or spending time at social events we’d rather give a miss.
Of course we all have to do things we don’t want to sometimes, but many of us really do struggle to quite reasonable say no, just because we have been asked directly to participate. Once you are a fully-fledged assertive ‘graduate’, you will be able to say no, without causing offence, or feeling bad about it.
Go on try it!