We are human and humans are sociable animals. Communication forms the foundation of our interactions everyday, so it is important that this communication works effectively. But some of us find this communication more difficult than others. Becoming more assertive helps with this shyness around communication. But what does this being assertive actually mean?
Collins dictionary defines an assertive person as someone who states their needs and opinions clearly, so that people take notice. In other words, it means standing up for your rights and opinions, and being confident in this opinion without putting down others. It means becoming more self-assured, expressive, decisive and empowered.
Benefits of being assertive
- Boost your self confidence and self belief
- Develop mutual respect in a relationship
- Become more aware of how you feel
- Become more decisive
- Build honesty in relationships
- Become happier and more satisfied with work
- Effective communication
Steps to take to become more assertive
If you’re interested in becoming more assertive, here are a few pointers that can go a long way in helping you:
Look introspectively and assess your values
Do you shy away from any situation that might possibly result in confrontation? Do you listen to what’s being said by others but keep your own opinion under firm lock and key? Or maybe you’re the opposite, and you sometimes force your opinion on others. Identifying what style of communication you currently engage in is the first step to increasing your assertiveness. Also identify what kinds of things you feel passionately about. These are the things you need to stand up for. It could be something as big as your opinion on the current US President, or something as small as whether to spend your evening watching television or working out. However, it is important that you don’t disregard anyone else’s values. Your values are important, but so are your friends, colleagues, cousins and neighbours. Once you recognise that, you can begin to use your assertive voice.
Pay attention to your body language
Our body language says a lot about how we feel on the inside. When we are nervous, we hunch our shoulders or cross our arms or legs in an unconscious effort to make ourselves smaller. If you want to feel more confident and assertive, try improving your posture. Sit up straight, with your shoulders back and your two feet planted firmly on the ground. Eye contact is also very important. Maintaining eye contact exudes confidence and portrays that you are interested and engaged in what the other person is saying. Confidence is contagious, and by making these simple changes on the outside you will soon start to feel more confident on the inside.
Engage in the following techniques
Fogging technique: involves creating a “wall of fog” which prevents the other person from deriving a negative response from you. For example, you are late to a friends party and when you arrive they are, understandably, angry. Instead of getting defensive, which is the kind of response your friend desires of you, say “yes I am late and I can see this has upset you”. This type of response agrees to the truth – you were late after all! – but disengages from any confrontation.
Repetition: demonstrate persistence in what you want. For example, you buy a new bag and the handle snaps after two uses. You bring it back to the shop and explain that you would like a refund. The shop clerk tells you that they cannot give a refund on used products. Instead of accepting this and walking away, try standing up for what you want by repeating “this bag is faulty and has broken after minimal use, I would like a refund”. By calmly repeating what it is you want from this situation, it reinforces it in the clerk’s mind and the conversation cannot be brought off track into an argumentative zone.
Accept that compliment! Accepting a compliment when it is warranted shows great confidence. You bought that new top for a reason. You like it, you look good in it, so work it. And when someone else pays you a compliment, rather than brushing it off say “thank you, I really like it too”.
Stop apologising for other people’s reactions to you
This can be very difficult if you are a people pleaser and can’t stand the idea of offending someone. However, in the same way that other people shouldn’t control your opinions, you cannot control the opinions of others. All you can control is how you communicate your message. If you are polite and honest, there should be no reason for them to hold onto long-term animosity. If they do, this says more about them than it does about you. It’s also okay to say no every so often. If you’re backed up with paperwork or run off your feet dealing with customers, or simply need some “me time”, it’s okay to say no to doing extra. You’re not made of steel, let go of that guilt.SAA
Acknowledge your mistakes and be gracious in the face of criticism
Nobody is perfect and there is always more room to improve. Admitting when you’re wrong or when you’ve made a mistake demonstrates self-assurance and a positive attitude towards self-improvement. Also remember to give credit where credit is due, be grateful for the help of others. There will also be times where people will criticise you, and it’s important to be gracious towards this. Use negative criticism for positive growth. For example, if someone criticises the meal you just cooked, instead of becoming defensive, try saying “it wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever cooked, what exactly didn’t you like?”.
You won’t get better at football by watching it on the TV, and you won’t become more assertive by just reading these pointers. Start out small and practice until it becomes natural. This isn’t easy and at first you might feel like it’s forced. You might waver and fall off track. But just like riding a bike, get back up and try again. Becoming more assertive is not about changing your personality and becoming someone you’re not, it’s about gaining the confidence to let your voice be heard. Ask your family, friends or anyone you trust for help. By practicing on a non-judgemental audience, you’ll be ready for real life situations when they arise.
Signs your new found assertiveness is being compromised
You might find along the path to becoming a more confident you that not everyone will be so happy to see you blossom. You might meet jealousy, confrontation and disrespect. By sticking to the steps above, and remaining firm in the face of adversity, you can over come any negativity you bump into along the way. Our mental health professionals are also here to help you along the way, so don’t be afraid to get in touch if you need someone to talk to.
By Sarah Walsh