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How to Develop Assertiveness Skills

‘There is nobody better than you and you are not better than anybody’

Being assertive refers to the ability to be self-confident without being aggressive. Assertiveness is a positive quality that helps enhance personal as well as professional relationships. An assertive person is able to express their feelings openly and clearly while respecting the feelings of other people at the same time. Assertiveness arises out of confidence in your own abilities and in yourself as an individual. The quality helps you state your feelings, position and claims in a calm and confident manner. Moreover, assertiveness is an excellent tool that helps improve your relationship with others because you have improved your relationship with yourself. Actually, assertiveness can be described as a way of life rather than simply an attribute and it requires time and patience to develop.

As you decide to develop assertiveness skills, your relationships may undergo changes because whilst most people will accept the new you, some may not. Old behaviour and relationship patterns tend to be tenacious and you will need to practise assertiveness on a consistent basis to experience the benefits. However, assertiveness is one of the most useful skills that you could develop because it will stand you in good stead in the workplace, at home and indeed in any situation at all.

Why should you want to develop Assertiveness Skills?

The most important reason to develop assertiveness is to learn to operate from a position of respect and equality. You start by respecting your own beliefs, attitudes and values and consequently respect others’ beliefs, attitudes and values too. By treating yourself and others on an equal footing, you begin to gain important insights into relationships, situations and the general way in which the world works. Moreover, you are able to do all this without feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Let’s read on and understand why you should learn to be assertive in the first place.

Enhanced and Healthier Self-Image

The word ‘self-image’ refers to the way you perceive yourself. This is crucial because the way we perceive ourselves makes a deep impact on the way we perceive others. A negative self-image manifests itself in different ways. We may suffer from low confidence and self-esteem and display erratic behaviour patterns. Assertiveness involves creating a realistic self-image where we do not see ourselves as better than others or others as better than ourselves. Our inner sense of self-worth accepts the fact that we are of equal value to others and that our preferences may not always be met. Similarly, you appreciate that others’ preferences may not be met.

You are able to understand others Better (Improved Empathy) and Learn to Say No

We are able to understand that each person has their own set of objectives and needs and we do not perceive others as a threat. You are able to perceive others in a more realistic context and realise that you have to work together for the greater benefit. We tend to see others as collaborators rather than as competitors. This is also a very helpful benefit while dealing with others. You learn to say no when you are unable to accede to someone’s request because you are no longer ridden by guilt. If they feel upset as a result of your response, you realise this is because they chose to feel upset about it and that this is not personally connected with you as a person.

Greater Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness

When you become a more assertive person, you understand that you are entitled to your opinion and you have a right to express that opinion. As a result, you feel comfortable expressing your opinions, even if you are aware that they may not be accepted or well-received. This attitude helps build confidence because you don’t spend time wishing that you had said something else – something that pleased people as opposed to your real feelings. We gradually become more aware of who we really are as people and our values and belief systems become clearer to us. It leads to an evolved sense of self-awareness and allows you to live and let live in the true sense. You are comfortable with holding your views, likes and dislikes and respecting other people’s preferences at the same time.

Issues get Resolved Faster and with more Clarity

When you choose to be assertive, you express exactly what you want which minimises the likelihood of the issue lingering on and rearing its head repeatedly. Most misunderstandings in communication occur when we fail to express what we want or express ourselves ambiguously. Assertiveness ensures that problems and issues get solved then and there without leading to wastage of time and energy. Passive people allow situations to build-up and endlessly ruminate over what they said and how they said it. Aggressive people constantly view others as a threat, but assertive people free up a lot of mental energy for other things.

Difference between Aggressive and Assertive Behaviour

There is a distinct and crucial difference between assertive and aggressive behaviour. Aggression is born of insecurity and fear while assertiveness stems from confidence and assurance. While passive people believe that they should serve others, aggressive people believe that others should serve them. Assertive people, on the other hand, believe that everyone should support each other. Aggressive people perceive others are threats and competitors and see every situation as a contest. Assertive people, on the other hand, are comfortable with a fair exchange of ideas and operate from a position of high self-esteem and self-awareness.

People who are assertive are never interested or motivated to decrease the self-esteem of others. Aggressiveness is aimed at reducing the self-esteem of others.

How to develop Assertiveness

  1. Personal space: Practise giving yourself personal space and do not be embarrassed about doing it. The first lesson on becoming assertive is to respect boundaries and limits. If you feel that someone is invading your space, step back and give yourself room. Setting healthy limits is an important prerequisite to building healthy relationships.
  2. Learn to say no with dignity, politeness and firmness. This is one of the most important things that non-assertive people find difficult to do. Saying ‘no’ is associated with impoliteness or fear of offending the requester. However, learning to say ‘no’ is the first step towards defining who you are and what you are willing or unwilling to do. You need not say no in a rude manner but you should definitely consider saying it with firmness. Here are some tips to say no at the right time and in the correct way:
  • Don’t wait until you’re frustrated with over-the-top and frequent requests as the ill feelings will fester for longer and make it difficult to be calm.
  • If someone (even if that person is a friend or colleague) cannot accept a ‘no’ then accept that it’s their problem and not yours.
  • Think about the reasons why you want to say no before you say it. Each case is different, so mull over your decision and don’t regret it once you decide; saying no invariably has its ramifications.
  • It’s not necessary to say ‘no’ in a harsh or rude way; you can always express it in civilised and well-bred language. But do not be ambiguous in your message.
  1. Detachment: It helps to listen to people, but simply allow comments to ride over you without getting involved in them. For example, you could respond to a remark by saying, ‘Yes, I’ve eaten too much over Christmas and have put on weight’. This would count as assertiveness rather than brooding over the remark and taking offence and then becoming defensive in the process.
  2. Body language: This is a body language tip that helps increase assertiveness in an effective manner. Make eye contact with the person(s) that you’re speaking to and avoid looking down, away or all around the room. Be careful not to stare the other person down because this may translate itself as aggressiveness. You may also wish to consider standing straight, keeping your head high and wearing a smile. Slouching, slinking or shuffling along is often perceived as signs of passiveness or passive-aggressive behaviour.
  3. Reprogram internal chatter: The way we talk to ourselves is extremely important. Guilt feelings, for example, can severely hamper efforts to be assertive. If refusing to give money to your perennially broke friend makes you unhappy, you need to consciously replace the negative thought with a positive mantra. Think, for example, that you deserve to be financially stable. Letting go of guilt is one of the first key steps towards developing assertiveness.
  4. Do not avoid uncomfortable subjects or situations: When our assertiveness skills are in their emerging stage, we tend to shun difficult situations or conversations because we are nervous or fearful about the outcome. The outcomes may involve losing a relationship or a friendship. As you decide to become assertive, you learn that facing situations or having that difficult conversation makes it easier to resolve our emotions and move on. Avoidance tactics will only suggest manipulation and aggravate the situation.
  5. Express your feelings and emotions clearly: Most of us get flustered because we react instead of letting the other person know how we feel. Assertiveness skills involve appreciating the fact that nobody can guess how we feel. Take a few deep breaths and choose clear words to articulate what is going in your mind. Lack of assertiveness often means that we manifest our feelings in other ways which may send confusing signals to the recipient.

The following techniques explain how you can be more assertive at work:

  • Try to recognise your real worth and silence internal criticism. Focus on the good things that you have been able to achieve.
  • Read up office manuals and become familiar with the ethical and legal boundaries of what is acceptable. Knowledge can empower you to ask for what you need and it helps to know your rights by law.
  • Please respect your limitations with regard to quantity of work; do not take home armfuls of reports to complete when you know it’s going to exhaust and drain you. Being resentful and negative will not help. Use assertiveness to articulate your feelings to your boss or manager.
  • Focus on growing as a professional and as a person: read books, manuals and periodicals and consider taking extra classes to pursue your goals. This will help build confidence because you are aware that you are living your life as you want to. Self-confidence will also prevent you from perceiving others as competitors or threats.
  • Rehearse and practice saying statements that you normally find difficult to express. For example, you may wish to practice saying, ‘No, I am afraid that I can’t do the work over the weekend because I plan to spend it with my children.’

Most of us do not demonstrate assertiveness because we are afraid of the consequences or because of our inner belief systems. For example, being nice (to us) may mean agreeing with or saying yes to everyone. We may experience rejection, fear, conflict or be afraid of losing relationships. To be honest, as women, many of us may have been raised to agree with people and go along with the flow rather than express your feelings or opinions. What we’re looking to do is introduce a major change in our way of thinking. We do not spend our lives being a mirror for other people’s objectives, preferences and beliefs.

Choosing to become assertive is a major decision and takes a lot of time and effort. Aggressive people tend to snap outwardly and leave behind unresolved situations that take time and energy to repair. Passive people, on the other hand, snap inwardly and turn their negativity onto themselves and experience stress-related ailments in the process. Assertive people do not snap because they express their feelings to others and are comfortable doing so. You may find that as you become an assertive person, you may lose some people in your life. They may not be able to accept the new you. But then, you may wish to give due consideration to the fact that these may not be the type of people that you want in your life anyway. Assertiveness gives you the mental clarity to recognise what you need.

Assertiveness is an extremely useful communication skill that helps you deal with awkward situations in the workplace. You learn to express your point of view without belittling others.


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