“You need to improve assertiveness.”
“You need to be more assertive.”
I remember one time an acquaintance of mine said those things to me when I was younger. While this acquaintance didn’t shape my life or anything, I still consider him as someone I can confide in. I merely haven’t for most of my life.
Regardless, his words still kind of ring in my head from time to time. Especially when I’m writing about being assertive.
At the time, I believed that assertiveness was akin to being bold and not taking no for an answer. It felt bold, powerful.
An apt word to describe what a man “should be.”
But over the years as I’ve developed myself and are now considering this word further, I’d consider myself as being assertive. But not in that manner I described above.
I believe that my past view of being assertive is wrong. To work towards that image as being able to improve assertiveness is simply wrong.
Assertiveness is completely different and if you want to be assertive, I’ve got some words of advice for you.
Assertiveness Isn’t An Argument Over Being Passive Or Aggressive
According to Randy Paterson, Ph.D.:
“Assertiveness is all about being present in a relationship.”
His book The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships he expands on this:
In the passive style, all the world is allowed on stage but for you — your role is to be the audience and supporter for everyone else. In the aggressive style, you’re allowed on stage but you spend most of your time shoving the others off, like in a lifelong sumo match. With the assertive style, everyone is welcome onstage. You are entitled to be a full person, including your uniqueness, and so are others.
This passage is essential to understand with regards to assertiveness. Looking back at my previous view, it seemed like I was thinking of a more aggressive style rather than assertive. The idea that a man has to be strong by showing off to others or fending them off.
That’s not assertive. That’s aggressive and being an asshole.
But being able to distinguish between the two is still a good skill to have. Through that, we learn what assertiveness actually is.
It’s that uniqueness, but also being able to satisfy your needs. To do this, being assertive is a matter of articulating those needs amongst other things I’ll talk more of below.
Improve Assertiveness By Starting Small
The little story I described above is an extreme view of assertiveness. Squashing whatever a person wants from you and doing things solely for yourself. That’s not assertiveness but mere selfishness, and aggressiveness.
Regardless I never adopted that policy mainly because making that leap would’ve been incredibly challenging for me at the time. Instead, my advice to you is if you want to improve assertiveness: work small.
This means instead of talking about squad goals or discussing tougher subjects with people, maybe learn to say no to a few things. That or make quick decisions for where you want to be seated in a restaurant.
Assertiveness is about being clear about your needs at the time and making them clear.
Guilt Will Crush You, Learn To Overcome It
Assertiveness does have it’s drawbacks. Sometimes it makes you look like an ass. And if you’re someone who was passive and is trying to improve assertiveness, this will be a struggle you need to overcome.
One method I’ve learned is to communicate your intentions and reasoning. Explain why you think that and tell the person you’re open to understanding and learning more. Who knows, maybe someone comes up with a better idea than you?
From this light, I see assertiveness as being able to state what you want and to tell people “this is what I want. If you offer something better, let’s hear it. If not, then this is my offer. Deal or no deal?”
From this stance, if someone isn’t willing to help you, you can move on.
Being as clear as you can is crucial to improve assertiveness. This seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many times people aren’t always clear about what they want. Some people make assumptions and think that people already know.
Again. Be clear, honest, respectful, and specific about your needs and views.
A good analogy is ordering food. You wouldn’t tell them that you want a burger. Instead, you’d order a specific burger and anything else you want with it.
One other good strategy to improve assertiveness is to use “I” statements. Using that kind of statement puts people less on the defensive. Not only that but it’s easier to express yourself this way and doesn’t make you sound superior or intimidating.
Know The Difference Between Being An Ass And Being Assertive
One other thing to consider is knowing when you’re being assertive and when you’re being an ass. I feel that expanding on this topic is key because people can have misconceptions over what an assertive person is.
If you’ve been reading up to this point, being assertive isn’t about being aggressive and trying to screw over everyone to get what you want. Genuine assertiveness looks different.
One other way to describe it is that being assertive is a communication skill. It’s listening, but also standing up for your values and to communicate them clearly to others.
Here are some other qualities that you can work towards to improve assertiveness:
- Assertive people listen actively. They try to understand people’s points of view.
- Assertive people know their goals and aren’t afraid to state them.
- Assertive people are calm. Even when people disagree with them, they won’t raise their voice or try to dominate the conversation.
- They use “I”. I mentioned it already but it’s worth mentioning again. Remind yourself to use it and make a point of asking yourself “What do I want in life?”
Naturally, moving away from those kinds of aspects you’ll be losing what being assertive is all about.
Assertiveness Is All About Confidence
At the end of the day, assertiveness is a confidence game. How confident are you with your own needs? How confident are you to tell others about those values and what you think?
Whenever you’re being assertive, you’re being direct and honest with yourself and towards the other person. You’re going into a conversation expecting other people to not know what you want. You’re merely taking the time now to let them know.
To be able to do that, you need confidence in your skills and abilities. You don’t want to leave room for low self-esteem issues, doubt, or hesitation.
Consider Your Communication Style
As I’ve mentioned thus far, you want to be calm, respectful, and use “I” statements.
But some other crucial factors are word choice and the body language that you use.
To stress again, never expect people to know what you are implying or presuming. You also want to be sitting or standing confidently if you are talking with people. Look people in the eye, smile or keep a neutral expression, lean in a bit. These are signs of confidence and assertiveness.
And of course, whenever you want to make something clear, speak up.
Improve Assertiveness By Setting Boundaries
Assertiveness also has a level of tolerance. When is a good time to move on from someone or something? When is it worth it to continue?
Recognizing this is devoting time to understanding your values followed up by putting them into practice.
Of course, I can’t help you with those values, but here are some scenarios you can ask yourself. Answering these scenarios can determine your tolerance and help you narrow down values:
- To determine how patient you are, consider the following: What job would you consider? A job that is easy to apply to that pays at an average rate or a job where you need to go through a lot of hoops but pays higher?
Patience is one boundary and related to assertiveness as it gives you a rough idea of how long you’ll go with a deal or an arrangement. While every person’s scenario is different, knowing how long someone will string you along can help you. It’ll help you to determine when to assert yourself.
- To determine how generous you are, ask yourself how far would you help someone in need? Would you devote a lot of time to helping them or offer assistance here and there?
Generosity plays a role in determining how lenient you are with your demands. Again, each person’s needs are different depending on each situation. That being said, it can give you an idea of when it’s best for you to assert yourself and what you won’t tolerate in terms of charity or offering help.
- Some other things to consider with values is what kind of people you prefer to deal with? Whenever you are conversing with people and discussing business or other important life decisions do make a point of judging their character a little bit.
At the end of the day, we like working and talking with people that appeal to our own values. If you feel uneasy or skeptical about someone, you can pry and get to know them more or move on. No matter what, you are sharing your stage. Make sure you have the right performers that make you excel too.
Improve Assertiveness By Recognizing You’ll Make Mistakes
One other aspect of assertiveness is that it can make someone feel excited. After all, you are prioritizing your own needs. Needs that you highly value. The problem with that is that it can be confused for aggression.
I said already we need to keep our cool and to express ourselves calmly, but also recognize some of you won’t consider it.
Reading about it and actually being in the heat of the moment are two very different things. No matter what though, recognize that you might screw up. That’s okay. Remember to keep moving forward regardless.
On that note…
Moving On Is Cool
Knowing your values is one thing, but it’s another to integrate them and to act on them. Moving on can be difficult in certain cases.
For example, before I found the apartment I wanted I was talking with one homeowner who offered a really good deal. In the end, I moved past it because it was starting to sound more and more like a scam.
I wasn’t going to be fooled by it, but my curiosity got the better of me and talked with the guy for a while. But I know for other people they may not have. After all it was a pretty tempting offer and the only real reason it piqued my interest.
My point is that rely on your values and consider whether or not it’s worth proceeding. If not, make a point of reminding yourself that there are other options. No matter how dire the situation is, there is always a way to get out of the situation. Recognize that you need to stick to your values and know when to soften them, stick to them, or move on.
All of that takes practice.
Improve Assertiveness Is Another Skill
To improve assertiveness, you’ll need to practice it regularly. Like I said before, start off small before using it in more serious scenarios. Either that or devote some time to improving your self-confidence and belief in yourself.
After all, confidence and assertiveness go hand in hand.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon