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How to become more assertive

Assertive woman making stop gesture.

We’ve all had interactions with people that end with us either wondering why we agreed to an unfair request or feeling regretful about reacting badly.

If you’re often left feeling powerless, frustrated or unable to state your views, you could try working on your assertiveness.  This skill can help to improve your self-esteem and reduce stress levels and resentful feelings, as you’ll feel more in control. It can also help to create more positive relationships with other people.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is the ability to make your views and needs clear, whilst also respecting the opinions and rights of others. It treads a line between aggressiveness – which means focusing on ‘winning’, no matter the cost – and passiveness, which means going along with what others want.

Assertive people remain polite, calm and controlled, whilst remaining direct and honest with others. If something bothers them, then they speak up. If they disagree with an opinion, they’ll discuss it.

They make their views clear, but remain open to compromise. Most importantly, if they ask for something and are told “no”, they don’t get angry or upset.

Verbal and non-verbal features of assertive communication

Practice the features of assertiveness and have a think about whether or not you use any of them in your day-to-day communication.

Verbal:

  • Firm, relaxed voice
  • Speaking clearly with no hesitations
  • Appropriate volume for the situation
  • Willing to co-operate with others and seek their opinions.

Non-verbal:

  • Direct eye contact
  • Listening to the other person
  • Straight, open posture (no crossed arms!)
  • Relaxed gestures
  • Clear emotional expression (e.g. smiling when pleased).

Use empathy

Try to take a step back and see things from the other person’s point of view.

If you’re having a discussion and they disagree with you, let them know you understand or ask them to explain their viewpoint.

Practice saying “no”

If someone asks you to do something you’re not comfortable with, it’s ok to say “no”. If you’re unsure, say you need time to think about their request.

Have a think about your limits and stick to them. Remind yourself that you can’t please everyone. Don’t be afraid to suggest a compromise and work with the other person to come up with a solution.

Compliments and complaints

Accept compliments graciously and thank those who give them to you.

If you receive negative feedback or criticism from someone, then accept it positively. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand where they’re coming from. It’s ok to say you don’t agree, but try not to get defensive or angry. No-one’s perfect, so use constructive criticism as a way of learning and improving.

Stick to a script

If you’re unsure how to put your viewpoint across there’s a handy, basic script template that you can revert to.

  • State how you see the situation/problem
  • Describe how it makes you feel
  • Tell the other person what you need
  • Describe the positive outcome if your needs are fulfilled.

For example:

“The house is getting dirty, which is making me feel stressed. I’d like us to spend an hour or so cleaning together to sort it out. Then it’ll be a nicer space for both of us to spend time in.”

Start small

Starting to voice opinions if you’re used to sitting back and putting other peoples’ choices first can be hard. Start with something small and build your confidence from there. For example, if you usually say “I don’t mind” when a friend asks you where you’d like to go, try making a suggestion.

Make an effort to use “I” instead of distancing yourself from your opinion. So, rather than saying “there’s a good film on”, say something like “I’d really like to see a film”.

We also have a blog on boosting your confidence to help you get started.

Learn to let go

Acknowledge that you have no control over how other people think or behave. The only person whose reactions you can control is you.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore other peoples’ feelings or situations. Making offensive comments or forcing someone to do something isn’t assertiveness – it’s bullying. However, you shouldn’t worry so much that you never voice your own opinion.

Similarly, you must be prepared for people to disagree with you – that’s the risk you run when you make your thoughts clear. Don’t be offended if they do. Just remind yourself that no-one’s the same and there’re as entitled to an opinion as you are.

Dealing with aggression

At some point everyone comes across someone being aggressive or looking for a fight, whether they’re an angry customer or a partner who’s had a bad day.

Take deep breaths, stay calm and answer each of their responses politely and reasonably. Try not to get angry and shout back.

Find any nugget of truth in their statements and acknowledge it, but avoid being defensive or agreeing to any demands they may make. By not rising to an argument the confrontation will peter out and you’ll be able to have a reasonable discussion.

Be patient

Becoming assertive takes time. You’ll have good days and not-so-good days. Just focus on your successes and how they made you feel. One day, it’ll become second nature.

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Ben is here to provide support for life to those who work in the UK’s automotive industry and their families. You can ring our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.

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