Assertiveness – An Essential Life Skill Everyone Should Master

Have you ever wondered how some people have a natural ability to express their opinions and views confidently, politely turn down the things that they don’t want to do and still manage to maintain a good rapport with people ? Do you think it is some superpower that they are born with ? Well, this superpower that they possess is called Assertiveness. And the good news is that with the help of the right strategies and dedicated practice, you too can develop this superpower.

What is assertiveness ?

Assertiveness is a healthy behaviour that helps you  express your views, feelings, needs and desires  in a calm, clear and reasonable way without  disrespecting the other person.It is a crucial life skill that enables you to stand up for your rights without undermining those of others’. Assertiveness doesn’t come naturally to most people. Often, they tend to respond passively or end up responding aggressively. At times people may also choose to respond in a passive-aggressive manner, which can be considered as a combination of these two types.

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Why do you need to be assertive ?

Passive people often end up doing things that they really don’t want to do in an attempt to please others and eventually it takes a toll on their self esteem and confidence. On the other hand, the aggressive ones, though most of the time manage to get their ways, often find their insecurities getting worse due to their behaviour and end up being lonely and dissatisfied in life. In the case of passive aggressive responses, it may work well initially, but in the long run, the guilt of not being open and honest with people starts weighing them down and affects their relationships with people adversely.

By being assertive, you are honest in your thoughts and words and express yourself clearly, while remaining empathetic and fair. An assertive person knows how to strike a balance between speaking up for himself and respecting the rights and beliefs of the other person. They are firm without being rude and also adept at handling their emotions. 

Well, it all sounds good in theory, but putting it into practice requires a lot of effort. Be prepared for the numerous sighs, eye rolls, I-Can’t-Believe-You-Said-No lectures, rants on how disrespectful and rude you are etc., that are bound to come your way during this journey of being assertive. But trust me once you have passed the initial phase of discomfort, you will find that it’s way less stressful and a lot easier to express yourself effectively.

How to be assertive ?

Have a clear idea about your core values and beliefs

Only if you have a clear understanding about yourself and your core values, will you be able to express yourself clearly and confidently. A good place to start is by assessing your behaviour, style and thought pattern. Identify those beliefs that prevent you from standing up for yourself. Look out for the triggers that blow your fuse. Dig deeper into your mind and identify your core values. Ask yourself  whether your actions and responses align with your core values. This understanding of yourself and your values is the foundation of self confidence which in turn is the cornerstone of assertiveness.

Speak up even if your voice shakes

Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you don’t particularly agree on the thing that the majority agrees with, instead of nodding along or yelling at them, try putting across your views honestly in a clear and composed tone. It might be difficult in the beginning and you might have a hard time controlling your emotions and tone. But with practice you’ll find your confidence and ability to articulate your thoughts gradually improving. Trust the process and keep practicing.

Accept both the bricks and bouquets gracefully

Whenever you are starting out on something new, you are bound to face criticisms and if you are lucky you might end up winning a few compliments as well. Accept both with an open mind. Graciously accept the compliments and train yourself to handle criticisms positively.

I.Wish.I.Could.But.I.Don’t.Want.To 

If you were to ask a people pleaser what scares him the most – dealing with Dracula or saying No – chances are high that his answer would be the latter. Well, saying No can be hard not just for people pleasers but for everyone. But it is one of the crucial skills to master on your journey of becoming an assertive person. Acknowledge the request and then give a short but clear and honest reply. Remember that neither do you owe anybody a justification nor an apology for your decision. In any relationship, people generally appreciate transparency and by being open and honest about your feelings you are doing yourself as well as the other person a favour.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is a skill that helps you better understand the other person’s perspective. While being assertive, respecting and considering the other person’s opinions and views is as important as articulating your thoughts. So it is important that you pay attention to what the other person says. Don’t shy away from asking questions if you need further information or clarification. By giving the other person room to explain himself, you are laying the basis for a constructive discussion and by attentively listening to him you are giving yourself a chance to view things from his perspective.

Watch your tone and body language

To have the desired impact, it’s not enough that you express yourself respectfully and honestly but you also need to maintain an assertive body language and tone while you speak. A relaxed open posture, good eye contact and the perfect mix of firmness and composure in the tone play a vital role in projecting your confidence. And this applies both when you are speaking as well as listening. 

‘I’ vs ‘You’

While expressing yourself, one thing that you need to keep remaining yourself is that your focus should be on the issue and not on pulling the other person down. To get your points across firmly and respectfully, use phrases like ‘I feel’, ‘In my opinion’, ‘I would like’  etc . The impact the expression  ‘I feel that my choice would be better in this case’  makes is way different from the one  the expression ‘Your choice is terrible’ makes . The latter points fingers at the other person and ridicules his choice whereas the former gets your point across without engaging in the blame game. 

Take a moment to reflect on your progress

Every time, after you’ve faced a situation where you acted assertively or at least tried to do so,  take a moment to reflect on what went well and what did not. Remember not to be too hard on yourself. Taking time out to review your progress helps you in understanding how far you have come in this journey of being assertive. It also gives you an opportunity to identify your weak points and the areas you need to work on. Also, helps you in identifying your behavioural patterns and thought process better. Consistent practice, along with periodic reflection, makes sure that your ride ahead is safe and smooth

Final Thoughts

Assertiveness may be a natural trait for a lucky few, but for most people it is a skill that needs practice and time to develop. During this journey, if you find yourself slipping to aggressive or passive modes, at times, just keep in mind that even the person who has won the ‘The Most Assertive Person of the Year’ award may not respond assertively 100% of the time. Instead of beating yourself up for such occasional goof ups, focus your attention on learning from them and fine tuning your assertiveness skills. Good Luck !