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Can you stand up for yourself in difficult situations? Do you find it easy to ask for what you want? Can you communicate your thoughts and needs confidently and effectively? For many people, sticking up for oneself is not always an easy thing to do. Finding the balance between speaking out firmly and clearly, and not sounding aggressive or losing one’s integrity, can be difficult.

So What Does it Mean to be Assertive? 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as to behave confidently and forcefully; The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as to behave confidently and to not be frightened to say what you want or believe; Merriam-Webster says it is to be disposed to bold or confident statements or behaviour. No wonder there is confusion around the difference between assertiveness and aggression.

Being assertive is about communicating your thoughts or needs confidently, whilst still respecting the needs of others. Being aggressive is about forcing your needs or beliefs on others without respecting their rights and feelings.

Some people won’t like you standing up for yourself, especially if they are not used to it. Some people may even see your new-found confidence as aggression. Gender can play a role in this. People’s perception of a man being assertive can be different to their perception of a woman being assertive. But don’t let this put you off. Understand that most people have some insecurity that drives them to behave in a certain way, and they feel threatened when things begin to change.

There may, of course, be times when it is not appropriate to be particularly assertive. Different cultures and different situations could present instances where you have to think about the appropriateness of saying what you think. Empathise with people. You don’t want to offend or hurt others if you can help it, although you can’t control how people feel so you may end up upsetting them unintentionally.

Before you make changes, you need to understand the context of your situation. Does your workplace have a culture of rewarding assertiveness or does it require a more cohesive, sensitive approach? If you are going to change your behaviour, then people will change how they respond to you.

Being more assertive can make you feel empowered, less stressed and less resentful. It will give you more confidence and enable you to be more productive.

How to Become More Assertive

Understand your own value – this is the biggest obstacle to asking for what you want. You know you do the best you can at any given time but you may fear that your best is not good enough and that, by standing up for yourself, you will make a fool of yourself or lose something important, e.g. a job. Let go of the need for everyone to like you. The most important thing is that you like you.

Prepare what you want to say – identify what it is that you want to change and know what you want to say. Anticipate responses and prepare for them. This will give you the confidence to follow through and not back down halfway through.

State your needs clearly and positively – unless you tell people what you need, how are they supposed to know? If they don’t get the message first time, you may need to repeat it. People may not take you seriously at first. Try and use the same language each time so there is no confusion about what you want. 

Use effective language – use the first person – say ‘I want’, ‘I need’.  Use ‘will’ instead of ‘should or could’. Use positives instead of negatives.

Say NO – this is very difficult for many people but you can’t do everything and you can’t please everyone all the time. Understand your limits. You have the right to say no.

Empathise – Always consider others’ feelings whilst remembering that your feelings are just as important. Your needs are as important as theirs but not more important. Don’t cross the line into aggression.

Understand that you are not responsible for how others react – you can only control your own behaviour, not the behaviour of others. Always be true to yourself and remain calm but firm.

Set goals for yourself – whatever goals you set, stick to them as much as possible.

Accept feedback – you may not like it but even negative feedback can be useful. Accept that some people will feel threatened by the ‘new you’.                                                         

Evaluate – did you get what you wanted? Did it work? Do you need to adjust your approach?

Once you start to say what you want and find that the world doesn’t come to an end, then it becomes easier to make it a habit. It will increase your confidence, reduce your stress levels and bring you respect.

For more information on our other courses, please contact Alan Slater on alan@pathfinderassociates.co.uk.

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