We’ve come a long way from learning how to deal with bullies on the playground in 5th grade. The workplace playground becomes a lot more complicated when you’re trying to find the balance between steamrolling others and being steamrolled yourself. Developing a little bit of a backbone is something of a challenge for most. For me, 4’11” is not exactly the best height to be when you want to be seen or heard in a meeting or conference! But hey, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got!
Remember, asserting yourself is not solely about earning respect from others; it’s mainly about respecting yourself. Everyone has a different way of asserting themselves but if you’re just starting out, we’ll give you some basic checkpoints to keep in mind. I most liked Mayo Clinic’s approach to achieving assertiveness. Here’s the link to the original page.
“Assess your style.”
I thought it was great how this was emphasized on the site. Everyone is different so these guidelines are very much just those- guidelines. You have to assess how you react to aggression first in order to identify how you should approach being assertive. Tailor the guidelines to your own personal style. Being assertive shouldn’t change who you are!
“Use ‘I’ statements.”
This is a common suggestion I ran into again and again. I would add to this and suggest that, if you’re not comfortable jumping right into applying all of these points, this is the best one to start with. You can even start with phrases like “I think Nutella is great” versus, “Nutella is great”. Doesn’t sound like too much of a difference but it subtly includes a bit of you into the conversation.
“Practice saying no.”
I would personally have the hardest time going about tackling this one. Mayo Clinic suggests to practice being direct but if you’re just starting out you might be more comfortable adding an apologetic note to your rejection of the other person’s request. For example, instead of saying “No, I can’t do that right now. I’m really busy.” It might be easier for more timid beginners to say “I’m sorry, but no, I can’t do that right now. I’m really busy.”
Make sure though that you are committed and firm in your rejection. Be aware that some people just suck. For these few you may have to take the more direct approach suggested by Mayo Clinic in order to assert your feelings.
“Rehearse what you want to say.”
Stuttering can really destroy your confidence before you even get to what you really want to say. At home, it might be helpful to think of scenarios and play out a debate in your head. I would treat it like your preparation for a presentation and rehearse in front of a mirror, but if it feels weird to talk to yourself then you can find a friend, relative, or cat to help you out.
“Use body language.”
I found this point interesting since most don’t really pay attention to what cues their body gestures are sending when they’re talking. Looking and acting confident even when you are shriveling up inside, encourages others to be more receptive to your voice. But, I would caution you on this Mayo Clinic tip. Remember that what you’re trying to verbally express is definitely more important than having the right posture. If you practice enough outside of work though, it’ll become habit and you won’t have to even think about it.
“Keep emotions in check.”
Not everyone is able to maintain a strict poker face, so I give two thumbs way up for this tip. Tricks to remain calm like breathing slowly, I would add, slowing down the pace of your speech, not only gives you time to take a breather but also helps you think clearly and prepare your next lines.
I loved that Mayo Clinic included this. Nobody can jump right into being assertive all at once. Changing yourself is a process. It took me a long time to be brave enough to express my opinions to others. Actually, writing for you is a method I’m using to help assert myself as well! So try being assertive in different, low-risk situations and then improve from there.
It’s hard sometimes to walk the line between passive and aggressive, but as you increasingly express yourself over time, being able to assert yourself will come easier and also prevents you from slipping in either extreme. I’ll leave you with the parting words to remember that taking steps towards being more assertive is all about healthy communication. It’s about reducing your stress, not adding to it, or anyone else’s for that matter!