Do you need to be more assertive? If you do, you’re in good company. I’ve worked with numerous clients who have struggled to advocate for themselves – particularly in the face of potential push back.
I can personally relate to this particular developmental area, because historically, this is something I have struggled with too. As someone who places a strong value on getting along with other people, it often felt like a big risk to disagree or say “no.” As a result, I often made the choice to stay quiet, concede to the other person’s perspective even though I had strong reservations to it, or just agree to do things I didn’t want to do, out of a sense of obligation.
Gladly, I’ve made massive strides in this area (although I sometimes still have to draw on the strategies I’ll share below to help me to speak up for myself). If you, like me, could stand to be more assertive, here are 5 tips that will get you started.
Give yourself permission to be assertive
This first tip might seem obvious, but the truth is, that many people who have been told that they should be “nice,” can often feel as thought they’re being rude when they advocate for themselves. If you struggle with this, remind yourself that you are just as worthy as having your needs met as anyone else. Your voice matters, and you have a right to ask for what you want. So step into your power, and speak up.
Remember, there’s a big difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.
When considering the prospect of speaking up more, I often have clients who are reluctant to be more assertive because they are concerned that they’ll come across as domineering. If you share a similar concern, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a big difference between being appropriately assertive and being aggressive. In fact, if you struggle with assertiveness, it’s pretty unlikely that if you dial it up a notch, you’ll all of a sudden come across as overbearing. So, experiment with it, and you’ll see that your concerns were probably unfounded.
Develop a Constructive Attitude about Conflict
Often, people don’t assert their opinions because they view any sort of conflict as being inherently bad. Therefore, they’d rather keep the perspectives to themselves, rather than experiencing the discomfort that can sometimes accompany dealing with dissenting opinions.
If you have a negative view of conflict, remember that it’s been found time and time again that the best organizational outcomes come from diversity of thoughts and opinions. Healthy debate can lead to more effective brainstorming as a result of one person’s views sparking a colleague’s creativity. It also leads to decisions that are more sound, because a range of ideas have been vetted. However, for any of that to occur, the diverse opinions have to actually be expressed. After all, having a different opinion that you keep to yourself isn’t going to help anyone! If you can keep these points in mind, you’ll likely take it less personally when someone disagrees with you.
To be more assertive when faced with situations that have the potential for conflict, it can be helpful to role play with a confidante or coach so that you’ll feel more prepared. Not only will it help you to feel more prepared, it will also help you to anticipate possible critiques that may arise. You might also want to memorize some key phrases that you can draw on in case emotions become heightened. That way, you’ll be able to put your best foot forward, instead of becoming tongue-tied.
In the classic book, Crucial Conversations, the authors suggested using a technique called making contrasting statements, to convey your good intentions to others. This technique is defined as “a tool to address predictable misunderstandings that could put safety at risk. This is done by first, imagining what others may erroneously conclude and then immediately explaining that this is what you don’t mean, followed by your contrasting point—what you do mean.” For example, if someone gets upset because you are following up on a deliverable that they promised you last week, but still haven’t presented, you could say “I’m sure you have a lot on your plate, and I don’t mean to upset you by asking about this. What I’m trying to do is find out when I can expect it, so that I can proceed with my project.” These sorts of statements maintain your assertiveness, while also demonstrating empathy, which will hopefully help to deescalate the other person.
Another phrase that can be helpful when you are dealing with someone who is aggressively making a suggestion that you find unreasonable, being difficult, or simply unwilling to back off of their own point of view is, “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll take that into consideration.” This phrase shows acknowledgment for the other person, while also maintaining your freedom, because you’re staying non-committal in terms of what you will do. Of course, you can’t use this statement all the time, but in a pinch, it can help the conversation to move forward more productively.
Also, if you’re someone who tends to go into fight or flight mode during discussions, make sure to take some deep breaths. If you can keep your body relaxed, you’ll be better able to respond in a measured, non-reactive way. Make practicing mindfulness as a regular habit, so that when you are in higher stakes situations, you’ll be able to stay calm and objective when the pressure is on. (If you need additional help, my Executive Mindfulness Online Course, can give you a range of tools to deal with negative thoughts and emotional reactions that can get triggered when you’re in the midst of conflict).
Finally, learning to say, “no” is a critical skill to have if you want to be more assertive. Here’s an article I wrote with some tips that will enable you to do that much more effectively.
Speak with Confidence
If you’re speaking up, but sounding meek and tentative, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll come across as persuasive. Therefore, tap into your internal courage and power, and articulate your thoughts with conviction. Pull back your shoulders, stick out your chest, take up space, and adopt a confidence body position when you speak. Your body posture won’t only make you look more confident, it will likely make you feel more confident. (Don’t believe me? Try it right now, and see how you feel!)
Across time, as you continue to practice these new behaviors to be more assertive, they will become second nature. And, in so doing, you’ll be able to fulfill your potential, make your mark, and take up the space you deserve in the workplace.
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