Assertion is a learned behavior and positive communication skill. Assertive people can communicate openly and clearly. When you fail to practice assertion, negative communication skills, such as aggression and deference, take over. Aggression and deference are self-defeating styles of communication that work against you. Assertion helps you to choose your behavior and increases your self-control. In this section, you will learn several ways to become more assertive.
Decide to Change
Before you can become more assertive, you must admit that you need to change. Most people are emotionally attached to those things with which they are familiar. Change can be scary and the fear that you experience blocks your learning. You need to protect yourself to reduce this fear.
Decide What You Want
The only way to begin the process of learning a better way to handle difficult or stressful situations is to know what you want to get out of a particular situation. If your goal is to handle situations better in the future, you must begin now to improve the way you handle those situations. The key to the process is to make sure your objectives are realistic and can be met.
Decide If It Is Fair
Assertion will fail if you do not respect your rights and the rights of others. Being assertive requires that all parties involved win, at least in part. If you are a member of a team, all team members must win. You can ensure this happens by following these general rules:
- Determine the problem.
- Establish common goals.
- Work on understanding your needs and the needs of others.
- Equalize power.
- Reduce the risk of harassment.
Ask for What You Want in Clear Statements
Assertiveness demands that you communicate clearly and make sure that people understand what you expect. Make sure the message they receive is the message you intended to send. You may think that you are sending a clear message but your body language may be undermining your message. It is not always what you say but how you say it that is important. The way you act will tell others a great deal about yourself. Most people respond to your body language more than they do to your spoken words. Gestures like fiddling with your hair or not looking at the other person can undermine everything that you are trying to communicate. Pay close attention to your eyes, your facial expressions, your posture, your hand and arm movements and your tone of voice. Most of all, believe in what you say.
Know How to Say No
Learning when to say “no” is very important when negotiating for what you want. “No” is one of the shortest words in the English language but, for many, it is one of the hardest to say. On the other hand, saying “no” should not become a habit. Learn to say “no” only when it helps you obtain a realistic objective.
Learn How to Listen
Assertive people have developed their listening skills. As an active listener, you can do your part by:
- Suspending judgement.
- Avoiding distractions.
- Pausing and thinking before answering.
- Learning to rephrase what the other person is saying in order to clarify.
- Reflecting on what the speaker is saying.
- Asking questions.
- Looking in the speaker’s eyes.
To become more assertive you must accept the fact that you have to take some risks. Risk taking involves saying what you believe, saying what you want, stating your acceptable limits or boundaries, and stating your expectations. These actions might seem risky because you mistakenly believe that others will judge you harshly. Since you were a child, your parents and teachers may all have taught you that it is not okay to make these kind of statements, so you have learned that it is wrong to assert yourself. Unlearn this behavior and cherish the joy of expressing yourself. It is the only way you can obtain what you truly desire.
Be Calm and Relaxed
Anger is a subconscious signal that change needs to occur in your life. Stress and tension are self-defeating and they will provide you with opportunities to get angry when someone says or does something you do not like. Use your anger as a signal that you need to create some change or assert yourself. Remember that anger is an emotional response to your belief about something. It is not the situation that creates anger; rather it is your response to the situation. You choose to get upset or you choose to control your response.
Express Your Feelings Openly
Being open and honest with your feelings is the only way people can understand how you feel. If you are in a situation where you desire a certain outcome, you will attempt to use assertion. If this does not work, you will then turn to aggression or deference. To express feelings openly and honestly, you will have to deal with your own feelings of self-esteem. Self-esteem provides you with the protection that you need to function in social situations. Low self-esteem can make you reluctant to express your feelings and assert yourself. If you have low self-esteem, you want to protect yourself from being hurt. One way to protect yourself from being hurt is to not let other people know how you feel. Assertion is impossible until you learn how to open yourself up and express your true feelings to others.
Give and Take Compliments Easily
If your goal is to get a friend to help you with a particular project, you may want to consider using compliments, such as, “You really know your stuff on this matter and I would really appreciate it if you could help me work through this process.” Providing an opportunity for an individual to receive a compliment from you makes it more difficult for him or her to say no to you. It is also important to learn to take compliments. Receiving a compliment is just as important as giving one. The ability to give and receive compliments is a common characteristic of assertive people.
Give and Take Fair Criticism
- Be specific. Avoid generalizations.
- Acknowledge the positive.
- Keep calm and to the point.
- Don’t attack the person.
- Learn to accept fair criticism.
- Ask for advice on ways to improve the criticized behavior.
- Try to make the appropriate changes in your behavior.
- Don’t respond aggressively.
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