Becoming more assertive in a way that improves personal effectiveness mean that you won’t infringe on the comfort of others, buy you’ll still be getting your point across. Learning how to do this in a way that enables others to assert themselves, too, fosters productive communication and generates mutual respect.
Being assertive means relating to others with less conflict, anxiety or resentment. You’ll be more confident in your ability to handle any situation. In turn, that allows you to relax and think clearly. You’ll notice others reacting to your new attitude positively… and then you’ll become even more comfortable and confident in your words, actions, and choices.
“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others.” - Sharon Anthony
Benefits of Becoming More Assertive
Frustration, anxiety and burnout are not uncommon in the workplace these days.
While employers work to fill vacancies, set new protocols/permissions for remote vs. on-site work, and deal with unprecedented challenges in a volatile world, their ability to fix the issues associated with your frustration, anxiety, and burnout may be limited. In fact, they may not even be aware of what you’re dealing with and how it impacts you.
Here’s the good news: you can help yourself get a better handle on frustration, burnout and anxiety by becoming more assertive. When you develop the comfort and skills for self-advocacy and for effectively communicating about your needs, you’ll be better equipped to:
- Relate to others as equals.
- Handle situations objectively.
- Focus on the present situation.
- Retain self-respect and the respect of others.
- Increase self-confidence.
- Acknowledge the rights of others.
- Control more of what’s happening in your own life.
- Participate more fully in conversations and relationships.
That’s a compelling list of benefits! They make it well worth the time and effort required to become more assertive.
Develop Awareness So You Can Strike the Right Balance
Most importantly, becoming more assertive will help you take control of your own life. This reduces the feelings of helplessness associated with being passive, helping you to build relationships where all parties contribute equally.
Passivity Looks Like:
- Remaining quiet
- Not speaking your mind
- Putting yourself down
- Apologizing profusely
- Making yourself appear physically small
- Hunching shoulders
- Avoiding eye contact
- Speaking softly
- Avoiding conflict and pleasing others at your own personal expense
- Unintentionally giving others control over you
Words to describe those who are passive include: out of control, helpless, needy, insecure, and fearful.
Honest, open and productive communication is impossible if you’re too passive.
As you’re striking the right balance, you’ll also want to avoid going to the opposite extreme of becoming too aggressive.
Aggressiveness Looks Like:
- Expressing your feelings and wants as though any other view is unreasonable or stupid
- Dismissing, ignoring and insulting the opinions of others
- Making yourself appear large and threatening
- Penetrating eye contact
- A loud voice that may even be considered shouting
- A desire to win at any expense to others, and to ultimately gain control over them
Words to describe those who are aggressive include: arrogant, pushy, conceited, reckless, self-absorbed, and unhelpful.
People who are aggressive confuse respect with fear. This attitude makes others fearful of speaking openly and honestly, which stifles productive communication. There’s a sweet spot where you express and stand by your ideas while fostering an environment of creativity and critical feedback.
How Do You Avoid Aggressiveness?
- Inquire with an open mind.
- Acknowledge their position and that you’ve heard and understood.
- Advocate your position without attacking the other party’s position.
- Collaborate on building a mutually agreeable solution.
- Return to Inquiry (Step 1) if the conversation becomes adversarial.
As you’re balancing expression of your own ideas and advocacy of your own positions with the expression and advocacy of others, you’ll find the right balance. Assertiveness dignifies both parties and consciously strives to bring all voices (including your own!) into the dialogue.
Assertiveness Looks Like:
- Expressing your needs, wants, and feelings directly and honestly
- Not assuming you are correct or that others will agree
- Others feel safe disagreeing openly
- Your body appears relaxed
- Movements are perceived by others as casual
- You maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, but it is not interpreted as glaring
- Both you and others are able to keep self respect while expressing ideas openly
- You do not have the need or desire to win all the time
- No one is controlling anyone else
Words to describe those who are assertive include: helpful, supportive, shares control, shares information and trusting.
People who are assertive foster an environment where others also feel comfortable expressing their ideas. Assertive people listen to others, without feeling threatened in any way. Assertive people are able to reinforce both their own as well as others’ strengths, which helps group problem solving through communication.
It’s Not Assertive If…
- You don’t maintain objectivity.
- You resort to blaming or shaming.
- You use superlatives (always, never).
- You do not offer specifics and examples.
- You beat around the bush.
- You minimize and apologize.
- You “protect” someone from the truth.
- Your message is unclear.
Remaining neutral is one of the most important elements of assertiveness. In order to be balance, you have to be objective and genuinely interested in others’ input.
Common Obstacles to Becoming More Assertive
- Perception of power imbalance.
- Intense emotions like anger and fear clouding judgement.
- Poor self-image and feeling the need to be liked.
- Misplaced compassion.
- Underdeveloped active listening skills.
- Lack of trust, unsafe environment, high risk for those who challenge the status quo.
Remember, the biggest obstacle is your own perception of the situation at hand. Reminding yourself that you CAN overcome these obstacles will have life-changing results.
If the obstacles seem too overwhelming, the following steps can help to prepare a conversation that will be more effective for all parties:
- Have clarity of purpose.
- Identify emotional triggers.
- Check your assumptions.
- Focus on the positive outcomes.
- Consider the other perspectives.
- Organize your thoughts and back up your key points with specifics and examples.
- Plan for “we” and “I” (not “you) statements.
Conversation Starter Tips:
Use phrases like these to open conversations as you’re working to become more assertive.
- “I’d like to discuss _____. And I’d like to start by understanding your point of view.”
- “I think we have different perceptions about _____. Tell me your thoughts.”
- “I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more efficiently.”
- “Let’s talk about what just happened.”
A Word about Gender Stereotypes and Assertiveness
Societal and cultural norms definitely impact our perceptions of ourselves and others. Depending on your cultural and family upbringing, you may have some deeply-rooted impressions about how men and women are “supposed” to act. These may impact your ability to easily strike the right balance for becoming more assertive.
Common stereotypes for women include: being conditioned to serve others, raised to be “nice,” assertiveness can be seen as bossiness.
Common stereotypes for men: raised to believe that aggressiveness is positive, raised with old-fashioned notion of “manning up” when things go wrong, have a competitive streak.
It’s important to identify, to be aware of, and to set aside preconceived notions so everyone can feel comfortable asserting themselves in an effective, equitable and professional way.
If you’d like to learn more about assertiveness and personal effectiveness, check out this free course on People First Leadership Academy.