How to build assertiveness

Assertiveness is an important social skill and is either being sought or developed by people in a wide-variety of contexts and situations. By building assertiveness, you will be making a significant contribution towards your mental health and emotional wellbeing. This is because assertiveness goes hand-in-hand with good levels of self-esteem and self-worth. Assertiveness can also be important to someone’s overall Personal and Professional Development.

However, if assertiveness does not come easily to you, or you need to update this skill due to a change in circumstances, our blog has some helpful strategies to get your assertiveness to where you want it to be.

Build a picture

Build a picture of your current difficulties with being assertive. With quality information, it will be easier for you to know where to start and what areas to focus on. Below are just some of the questions you can ask:

  • When, where and with whom were you when your problem started?
  • What stressors or changes were occurring in your life around the start of the problem?
  • How often does the problem occur and how long does it last?
  • What significant persons are present or absent when the problem occurs?
  • Where does the problem occur?
  • What are the steps involved in the generation of the problem? Put another way, can you identify the stages where you go from not doing the problem to doing it?
  • When does the problem NOT occur?
  • What do you think other people know about your problems e.g. friends, family or colleagues?
  • What are your beliefs about the problem? For example, I can never change it? It’s my fault that I have it?

Get yourself an ally

Find someone – an ally – who understands why being assertive is difficult for you, but who will supportively challenge you to become it. This could be someone you know such as a partner, friend or colleague. Or it could be a therapist or life coach. Be clear with them that they need to challenge you. It takes courage to become more assertive and sometimes fear might push you back. An ally can encourage you when you struggle and celebrate your successes.

Handling criticism

Ask yourself how you currently respond to criticism. Do you take it too much to heart? A commitment to being more assertive is a commitment to changing your relationship with criticism. Assertive people have a strong core identity, which allows them to promote their strengths and acknowledge their vulnerabilities. Possessing a positive self-image means assertive people appreciate and welcome constructive i.e. helpful, criticism. When it comes to unfair criticism, the type intended to hurt and belittle, the assertive person is never around for long enough to hear it.

Educate

Educate people about what you are doing. Be ready to explain to those around you that you are changing. While you do not need to justify yourself, offering an explanation can bring clarity and reduce the chance of misinterpretation. Remember, if you are known as someone who lacks assertiveness, it might take time for others to get to know this ‘new’ you. Just as you will need time to find your feet, so this will be true for those around you. Remember, too, the principle being established: ‘I want to be with you, but I don’t need to be with you.’ If someone prefers the ‘old’ you and refuses to accept your transformation, ask yourself whether they need to be in your life anymore. A positive relationship, one where you are accepted for who you are, can only be strengthened when someone becomes more assertive.

The relationship mindset

Assertive people walk away from personal and professional relationships that no longer work for them. This is because assertive people know their own value and have no need to stay in relationships that fail to appreciate it. If you struggle being assertive, recognise that in developing it you are committing to the following relationship principle: ‘I want to be with you, but I don’t need to be with you.’ Being assertive means believing you will be ok, flourish even, as the result of ending a relationship. To the assertive person, leaving a relationship that fails to appreciate them is an opportunity – not a threat.

Manage your expectations

No one masters every skill in life. Stretch and challenge yourself to improve your assertiveness, but avoid searching for a ‘perfect’ assertive self. One characteristic of assertive people is their happiness with who they are. They never demand perfection of themselves and accept setbacks as part of life. So, as you practice assertiveness, accept setbacks as part of the process. It’s a cliché, but when it comes to personal transformation there is ‘no such thing as failure, just opportunity.’ Be kind to yourself and avoid the temptation to give yourself a hard time when nothing seems to work.

Putting it into practice

Taking into account all of the above, consider what your version of assertiveness is and put it into practice. Remember, practice with your ally and on your own until you feel ready.

  • Speaking – if you used to speak too much, speak less. If you were quietly spoken, speak more loudly. And if you used to wait until others had finished, take the lead in conversations
  • Use I statements – if you used to negotiate, compromise or plead, instead make more ‘I statements’. ‘I will do this,’ or ‘I won’t do that.’ And once made, resist the temptation to fill the silence. You have made your statement. It is enough.
  • Body language – if you used to stay still or seated, get up and move away. If you used to look at the floor, make eye contact. And if you shrunk away, then make yourself tall. Watch this great TED Talk on body language (Amy Cuddy)
  • Set boundaries – if you always said yes, then say no. If your privacy and possessions were in reality public property, then shut the door, leave the phone unanswered and take stuff back
  • Learn calmness – if you were easily stressed, learn to become grounded. If you rushed around after everyone, stop. And if your time was never your own, take some of it back

Getting support to build your assertiveness

If you struggle to be assertive and feel that you are being held back in life as a result, we’d love to hear from you. Our extensive experience providing therapy and coaching to people from a range of different backgrounds – university students, people in business  and many others – means that at Conversations With Impact we know how to help you build this important skill. For more information and a free telephone consultation, please get in touch.

You can also read our other blog about assertiveness in Relationships.