What is assertiveness and how to be more assertive
Have you ever been in a situation like this?
- You’re queuing to get on the bus and someone sneaks up on you. You get angry but you don’t dare to say anything to him.
- A friend asks you if you can pick him up at the airport. Even though you are doing badly because you have a lot of work, you say yes. You don’t want him to be mad at you.
- You’ve thought for a long time that you deserve a raise, but you don’t ask your boss about it. It is clear that it is not the most appropriate as things are.
Perhaps you have felt identified with some of them. In any of these cases, you should have said what you thought but didn’t.
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Most of us passively accept these situations while we feel like we lose respect for ourselves. Until sometimes we reach the limit and explode with anger, which has far worse consequences.
However, there is a third way of responding and respecting yourself much more effective than simple passivity or dangerous aggressiveness. I’m talking about assertiveness.
In this article, you will learn why it is so important, what its limits are, and why not everyone can be assertive. You will also discover 10 techniques to master assertive communication and the 4 steps you must follow to create the perfect assertive message.
What is assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a form of communication that consists of defending your rights , expressing your opinions and making suggestions honestly, without falling into aggressiveness or passivity, respecting others but above all respecting your own needs.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know its meaning. It’s about saying what you really think by controlling your message so that it is not too aggressive or fragile.
And although in theory it seems simple, in practice it is not so simple.
Yes, you can learn to be more assertive
Fortunately, assertiveness is a behavior that can be learned and improved . It is a conscious way of communicating your feelings without letting yourself be carried away by emotions, and is based on self-esteem and confidence in yourself . And remember that confidence can only be developed through personal experiences, never by reading books or blogs at home.
I hope you don’t think being assertive will solve all your problems in life either, because it won’t. It will also not be appropriate in all situations because each context is different. However, I can assure you that you will feel more confident and communicate more effectively when you need to.
Expressing your true feelings and standing up for your rights can be wonderfully comforting. When you say what you want, regardless of whether you get it or not, you manage to live more authentically and happily.
You feel free.
What good will being assertive do you?
Being assertive serves to expose to others what your true wishes and needs are, and to demonstrate dignity, self-confidence and respect for yourself.
The most interesting thing is that the requests you make from assertive communication will be much more likely to be successful since you will be legitimately asking that your point of view be respected. It will usually be useful for:
- Give your opinion , make a request or ask someone for a favor in a natural way and not as if you were asking them to spare your life.
- Express your negative emotions (complaints, criticisms, disagreements, etc.) and reject requests without making others feel hurt or upset with you.
- Showing positive emotions (joy, pride, liking, attraction) and giving compliments without seeming too emotionally volatile.
- Asking why and feeling legitimated to question authority or traditions.
- Start, continue, change and end conversations in a comfortable way and without the feeling of neglecting or disrespecting anyone.
- Share your feelings , emotions and experiences with others and encourage them to share theirs with you.
- Solve everyday problems before negative emotions like anger and anger appear and the situation gets out of control.
However, being assertive you will not get people to love you, never be angry with you, and grant you everything you want. No matter how assertive you use, there will always be people who will continue to give you no for an answer if you ask them for something that goes against their interests or values.
There will also be those who may misunderstand you and take your message as a personal attack. Nothing is infallible.
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5 reasons for having little assertiveness
Surely when you were little they taught you that you should not contradict your parents, family members and teachers, am I wrong? That idea can take root and become an unconscious will to always try to please others to avoid confrontations, rejections, or the feeling of guilt for having hurt someone’s feelings.
Many of us were educated in the idea that we should always try to satisfy and prioritize others, that it was not correct to put our own needs above those of others, and that when someone said something that we did not like we should be silent.
But along with the education received, there are also other factors that determine that you do not habitually behave in an assertive way.
1. Because you have low self-esteem and self-confidence
Lack of assertiveness is a vicious cycle: when you are not assertive you probably feel less valuable as you see your rights constantly trampled on, which will make you even less assertive in the future.
Remember that when you do not defend your rights or express your emotions, you are inviting others to treat you in the same way.
2. Because of the meaning of certain stereotypes in your life
Some roles are directly related to non-assertive behaviors , such as certain low-level jobs or the traditional role of women in some cultures. Still in many places there is a stereotype that women should be submissive while men should be aggressive.
The paradox is that we pressure ourselves to act according to the role we are supposed to play at all times: almost all of us are more passive and less assertive in front of the CEO than in front of the coworker with whom we share a table.
3. Because you are stressed or nervous
When you are stressed, it is common to feel that you are losing control of your life. In these situations you can act without thinking and end up expressing emotions very aggressively or even extremely passively, as if nothing mattered anymore.
This behavior, again, will feed the feeling of anxiety and probably provoke rejection in others, with which the vicious cycle re-fuels.
4. Because of your personality type
Many people believe that they are born more aggressive or more passive and that there is nothing they can do to change it.
This statement is not entirely correct. Even though there is likely to be a natural tendency to react one way or another, everyone can learn to be more assertive .
5. For your previous experiences
As I mentioned at the beginning, many people have learned to respond in a non-assertive way by imitating the behavior of their parents, friends or reference roles. If you have always had around you helpful and accommodating, or aggressive and hostile people, it is difficult for you to learn to react in another way.
The first step to being more assertive is knowing the source of the problem.
The 10 keys to being more assertive
Below you will find a compilation of techniques and tools that have proven useful to improve your assertiveness. It is not necessary that you internalize them all, just by putting some into practice you will surely notice the difference.
1. Replace your negative thoughts
To begin with, it is key that you replace the negative thoughts that arise when you assert your rights.
Avoid thinking things like “I am a bad friend for not leaving money for my colleague” and change it for a more positive and personal view such as “I deserve to be respected and I cannot leave money to someone who has never returned it to me . “
You can’t change your emotions, but you can change the way you interpret them.
2. Understand that people can’t read your mind
A great and classic mistake of passive people is to assume that people know what is going on inside you.
Maybe you think your boss knows that you want a raise, or that your girlfriend expects you to invite her to a romantic dinner, or that your friend knows how much it bothers you that you leave him a video game and then not return it.
However, people often have no idea what bothers you or what you really expect from them. So, don’t use the argument that they already know what you want as an excuse not to step up, because it’s false.
3. Defend “your” truth, not “the” truth
Speaking assertively does not transform your message into the only truth, but it does transform it into your truth .
I hope you agree with me that there is no absolute truth. The truth is a human invention. We take for granted that certain things are true so that we can understand the world around us.
Each of our truths is based on our past experiences and knowledge. That allows you to talk about your truths even when they are not true for others. And for that reason you should also listen to what they have to say.
Truths can be unpleasant, but that’s no reason not to tell them. Often the harshest truths are the most valuable . Do you remember the story of the emperor’s new suit? It is a fable about lack of assertiveness, and in the end it is shown that saying what you believe to be true can have enormous power.
4. Remember your goal no matter what happens
Imagine that you have been unmotivated for a while at work and you decide to go talk to your boss. If you only expose the problem to him – you do not feel motivated – what you do is transfer all responsibility to him.
What he decides you may like, or maybe not, because you have left him free to decide.
To be assertive, you shouldn’t just expose the situations, you should also make what you want very clear.
It is not easy to know what you want, so I recommend that you think about it carefully first. Do you really want a raise or a more motivating project? Do you want your boyfriend not to go out with your friends so much or that when he is with you he devotes more attention and affection to you?
The clearer you have what you want, the more likely you are to get it.
Once you have a goal, don’t stray from it. In a tense conversation, it is normal for there to be times when the other person does not seem to listen to you, does not listen to your arguments or even despises you.
In those cases remember why you are there. Remember that you have returned to the store to return a defective object, that you have called your neighbor because his music does not let you sleep at night, or that what you really want is that your girlfriend does not ignore you when she is with her friends.
Your goal is that, and not win the argument.
5. Always be as specific as possible
In addition to knowing what your real goal is in that situation, you must be able to convey exactly and in detail what you want and not a vague general idea, or the situation will probably get out of hand.
Imagine that you walk into a restaurant to order something to eat. Wouldn’t you just order “a sandwich”? Instead, you would order something more specific, like a medium Iberian ham sandwich with tomato bread, right?
Contrary to what many people do, there is no use in having a conversation in which you just want to express your anger. What do you really want to achieve?
6. Make reference to the facts and not your judgments
It is very important that in general you get used to talking about objective and concrete facts, and not about your conclusions. The difference?
Objective fact: “Your writing has spelling mistakes and the format varies on each page”
Your conclusion: “Your writing is a botch”
This will ensure that your communication is much more precise and that people do not feel attacked or judged before starting to deal with the problem.
7. Add reasons to what you ask
When you ask for something you really want to get, explain your reasons too. Giving reasons is an excellent way to reduce the chances of being rejected because your interlocutor will see that there is a real reason that supports your request , and that it is not a whim of yours.
Check out these two assertive messages:
-I would like you to raise my salary by 15% because in this way I will be aligned with the industry average for the work I am doing.
-Excuse me, would you mind speaking a little lower on the phone? My head hurts a little and I have a hard time concentrating like that.
In the same way, when someone asks you for something, you also have your right to refuse without giving explanations. Although giving a reason is good because it will reduce the aggressiveness of your message and provide an explanation for your behavior, you will also be leaving a door open for your interlocutor to discuss it with you.
If refusing without explanation seems too abrupt, a good idea is to offer alternatives at the end of your refusal :
-I can’t help you with work. I’m full until the end of the month. Why don’t you ask Andrea and see if she is doing well?
8. Speak from “you” and not from “you”
Even when you don’t mean to, it is common in intense conversations that other people perceive that you are blaming them. Using the word “You” in your arguments can easily be interpreted as an accusation and then, as a self-protection mechanism, people shut down and distance themselves.
Why is speaking from yourself (also called using “I messages”) so important in assertive communication?
Because it will help you express your truths without making the other person feel attacked or defensive. Instead of saying “You have treated me very badly these last few days” you can say “I feel disgusted with the way you have treated me lately . “
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Although you are basically saying the same thing, you focus it on your feelings instead of making the other person see that they have done something wrong. The key is to use “I” instead of “You”, and always stay focused on the problem you have, not blaming or blaming the other person.
- “I feel uncomfortable when someone drives my car and I prefer to be the one to do it” instead of “It is better if you don’t drive my car”
- “I would be very grateful if you could give me a few days notice before telling me that I have to travel for the weekend” instead of “What you are asking me now is a problem”
- “I would like to be able to finish my arguments without being interrupted” instead of “You are always interrupting my explanations!”
9. Spread your emotions
Another advantage of “I” messages is that they are very difficult to discuss because they will always be followed by an emotion or sensation, and no one can ever discuss how you feel .
Also, emotions are contagious when talking about them. When you express what you feel, people empathize with you because they know the emotion you are referring to.
People are also not usually aware of the consequences of their actions on the emotional state of others. Describing your emotions is likely to surprise many and make them reflect.
” I feel very disappointed every time you promise me something and you break it again” is much more assertive and will allow you to have a more productive conversation than with “You never keep your promises!” .
10. Reduce your anxiety with body language
Does the series “The Dog Whisperer” sound familiar to you? In it, the canine trainer César Millán shows how he educates dogs.
But the reality is somewhat different: Cesar does not train dogs, but trains their masters to be leaders . And much of what applies to dogs can also be applied to humans.
Cesar’s fundamental learning is that dogs are pack animals and are prepared to follow the most assertive leaders, the ones who do not lose their cool easily. Teach owners to behave in this way, since their previous nervous behavior was contagious to animals.
The same thing happens in men. Because emotions are contagious, if you want to communicate assertively, you should also convey that with your body language . But there is more.
In a 2010 study of students and businessmen at Harvard and Columbia Universities, they found that the most effective leaders had high levels of testosterone and low concentrations of cortisol in their blood.
High levels of testosterone are associated with greater assertiveness , while elevated amounts of cortisol are associated with stress and nervousness. The leaders had more testosterone and less cortisol than the average participant.
But what they saw next was surprising.
They discovered that it is possible to modify the levels of these hormones in the blood thanks to proprioception or two-way pathway between the brain and the muscles. Specifically, they found a type of position, the so-called Power Postures , capable of increasing testosterone production and reducing cortisol levels.
The Postures of Power are those that make your body as large as possible, as the position taken by athletes when they win a competition (raised arms, chest puffed out , his head slightly upwards and open mouth) or when people are proud (hands resting on the waist, legs apart, chin up).
These postures are innate: even blind athletes adopt them despite never having seen anyone do them.
What the study revealed is that holding such a posture for two minutes could disrupt hormonal production and make people behave more assertively .
The 4 stages of the perfect assertive message
Several investigations have shown that to achieve maximum assertiveness you must use subjective communication to describe what will happen if everything remains the same, and then present your proposal.
The 4 phases are as follows:
- The facts. First describe the other person’s behavior. The behavior can be positive or negative, depending on whether you intend to be grateful for something or express your discontent. Remember to talk about facts and not judgments, and be as specific as possible.
- Your feelings. Now explain how that behavior makes you feel. Frustrated? Sad? Satisfied? Talk about yourself and your feelings, and try to stay calm.
- The consequences. Describe the consequences of your interlocutor continuing to engage in this behavior. Here you can also add the feelings you anticipate experiencing, how that behavior will affect other people or situations, or give more details about that behavior.
- The solution. Finally, explain specifically the changes you want to see in the other person’s behavior. In this way people will be able to respond proactively, as opposed to if you only listed a list of your problems without suggesting solutions.
Here are three examples of a perfectly assertive message:
- “You have worked hard to finish this project (behavior) and I am very proud of you (how you feel). So you are sure to be successful in your business (consequences). “
- “You often turn in your projects late (behavior) which bothers me a lot (how you feel) because it gives the feeling that the whole department is very disorganized (consequences). I want to ask you to be punctual in the delivery (solution) from now on. “
- “Every time you tell me what to do (behavior) I feel threatened (how you feel) because you yell a lot and point at me (more details). I’d like you to stop doing it that way (solution). “
Although most of us do not speak in this way, it is important that you reflect on the way you are going to express your feelings from now on so that it is as clear and less aggressive as possible.
Start from scratch
In the same way that if you were learning to ride a bike you would not go downhill on Kilimanjaro, with assertiveness you must also practice in less compromising situations before aspiring to higher goals.
Ideally, you should start practicing in low-risk situations , like asking to move to a restaurant or to give you another room in a hotel.
Progressively, face more complex situations such as asking for salary increases, refusing favors from friends, or discussing highly emotionally charged topics. Little by little you will gain practice and gain confidence to be more assertive.
When you have made assertiveness a habit, you will wonder how you have survived so far without using it . And then you will no longer need strategies because you will start to feel comfortable saying what you think. Because saying what you think is natural.
Remember that there will be many times when you are unsuccessful. It is normal. The key is not to fall apart and try again with more enthusiasm. It is not the fear of rejection that separates people with more or less confidence, but how they react to it.
Assertiveness, finally, has a wonderful effect on self-esteem, becoming one of its engines. The more you respect yourself, the more others will respect you, and that is actually the ultimate goal of assertiveness.