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4 Tips for Being More Assertive
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4 Tips for Being More Assertive

 [7 Minute Read]

Assertive communication is a skill that’s so critical to success in many areas of our lives, but it can also seem like an elusive thing. What does it mean? How do you do it, and how can you tell the difference between assertive communication and non-assertive? Read on to find out!

What is assertive communication?

Assertive communication is a style of communication that involves expressing thoughts, feelings, needs, and opinions in a clear, direct, and respectful manner. It emphasizes open and honest expression while maintaining boundaries and respecting the rights of others. Assertive communication promotes effective dialogue, conflict resolution, self-confidence, and healthy relationships.

Why is assertiveness important?

Assertive communication allows you to express your thoughts, feelings, needs, and opinions in a clear and direct manner. It helps convey your message effectively without resorting to passive or aggressive behavior. It also contributes to a sense of living your life more authentically. If you’re able to express yourself clearly and openly, it’s likely that you’re fairly confident in yourself, who you are, and your worth.

Assertiveness also enables people to address conflicts and disagreements in a constructive manner. By expressing their concerns and boundaries assertively, they can work towards finding mutually satisfactory solutions and maintaining healthy relationships. When individuals communicate assertively, they reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings, resentment, and unexpressed emotions. This can lead to lower stress levels and better emotional well-being.

What are the main types of communication styles?

Assertiveness is just one type of communication style. Let’s briefly go over the other 4.

  1. Passive communication: People who communicate passively tend to avoid expressing their needs, opinions, or feelings. They prioritize the needs of others over their own, often resulting in a lack of assertiveness. Passive communicators may be indirect, submissive, and have difficulty setting boundaries.
  2. Aggressive communication: Aggressive communicators tend to be forceful, dominating, and confrontational. They express their needs and opinions in a manner that disregards the rights and feelings of others. Aggressive communication often involves verbal attacks, criticism, and a focus on winning or being right.
  3. Passive-aggressive communication: This style combines elements of both passive and aggressive communication. Passive-aggressive communicators may appear passive on the surface, but they express their negative feelings indirectly or subtly. They may use sarcasm, sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or nonverbal behaviors to express their dissatisfaction.
  4. Nonverbal communication: Nonverbal communication includes body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues. It plays a significant role in conveying messages and emotions. Nonverbal communication can complement or contradict verbal communication, affecting the overall impact of the message.

It's important to remember that everyone uses these different styles. We're only human, and it's not always possible for us to communicate perfectly everytime. So, don't be too hard on yourself if you realize that you lapse into one of the above communication styles periodically.

Why can it be so difficult to communicate assertively?

The reasons for this vary, but they can be attributed to some combination of these factors:

  1. Fear of conflict: Many people avoid assertive communication because they fear confrontation or conflict. They may worry about negative reactions, rejection, or damaging relationships. They may have experienced a history of conflict when expressing their thoughts or feelings. This fear can prevent them from expressing themselves openly.
  2. Lack of confidence: Assertiveness requires self-confidence and a belief in one's own worth and rights. Individuals who struggle with low self-esteem or self-doubt may find it difficult to assert themselves and may fear negative judgments or criticism from others.
  3. Cultural and societal norms: Cultural or societal norms can influence communication styles and expectations. In some cultures, being assertive may be seen as disrespectful or confrontational, leading individuals to adopt more passive or indirect communication styles.Similarly, gender roles and expectations that are “constructed” within society can impact how individuals express themselves. Men may be expected to communicate firmly and aggressively, while women are more likely to be expected to be polite or passive. Additionally, assertiveness can come across as somewhat firm or cold,
  4. Learned behaviors: Some individuals may have learned passive or aggressive communication styles from their upbringing or past experiences. They may have been taught to prioritize others' needs or to avoid conflict at all costs, which can make it challenging to develop assertive communication skills.
  5. Lack of assertiveness training: Many people have not received formal training or guidance on how to communicate assertively. Without understanding the principles and techniques of assertive communication, individuals may default to passive or aggressive communication styles.
  6. Emotional barriers: Strong emotions, such as anger, fear, or anxiety, can hinder assertive communication. When individuals feel overwhelmed by their emotions, they may struggle to express themselves clearly and effectively.
  7. Lack of assertive role models: If individuals have not observed assertive communication modeled in their environment, they may not have a reference point for how to communicate assertively. The absence of assertive role models can make it more challenging to develop and practice assertive communication skills.

Remember - assertiveness is a skill! When you were born, you didn’t know how to speak, much less communicate assertively. This means that...

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned.

So, how do I start being more assertive?

Tip #1: Visualize Assertive You It helps to imagine an “assertive version" of yourself. Close your eyes and picture this person. What do they look like? How do they stand and carry themselves? How do they answer questions? Do others appreciate their clear communication efforts? Next time you need to communicate something, give yourself a minute to think about how this person would do it, then try to emulate that. It may feel foreign at first, but that's normal.

Tip #2: Remove indecisive language Think about words that convey uncertainty or self-doubt (such as “um”, “maybe”, “kinda”, “just”) and try to remove them from your vocabulary. You don’t have to do this all the time, just in situations where you are trying to come across as more assertive. For example, “When you have a moment, I want to ask you a question.” is much more assertive than “Hey, if you’re not busy, just wondering if I can take a second to ask you a question?”. You’ll often find that, in assertive communication, less is more. Don’t complicate your statements with too many words, particularly ones that read as indecisive or unsure. People will pick up on that, and you’re more likely to convey a sense of certainty and confidence in shorter statements.

Tip #3: Be prepared to face the “ick” Assertiveness requires you to get comfortable with a lot of “icky” feelings or situations: the potential to feel misunderstood, disliked, rejected, questioned, or have more responsibility. All of these things can be uncomfortable, even for those most seasoned in their assertiveness. Give yourself a pep talk ahead of time, if you need to. Tell yourself that you may encounter these things, and have a plan for how you’ll deal with the outcome afterwards. Your assertiveness practice may come across as cold or clumsy at first. You don't need to detach yourself from emotion completely, and it's ok if you stumble on your words in your attempts.

Tip #4: Find outside resources Aside from these tips, there are many resources available to you, but I highly recommend this workbook by Randy J Paterson PhD. It’s a wonderful place to start and will give a great foundational understanding of what being assertive looks and feels like.

Don't get discouraged!

Remember that it takes practice! You’re not going to become great at being assertive overnight. It’s a skill that requires discipline and repetition. Take small steps, check in with yourself, and remember to be your own cheerleader as you go on this journey. You’re doing a remarkable thing for yourself, and you should be proud!

Leave me a comment below and let me know how your assertiveness practice is going! I look forward to hearing about it. 🙂


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