It’s not always easy to be assertive. Katy Beskow shares practical tips to show you how to be more assertive and stand up for what you want in life
First impressions are so important, especially when you’re putting your point across.
Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, the way you hold yourself will show that you mean business.
Stand (or sit) tall, with your shoulders relaxed, and an open posture. It’s useful to have eye contact with the person you are talking to, but do this appropriately as no one likes to be stared at intensely!
Less is more
When making a point, keep your language open and honest, but be careful not to say too much.
Often, it’s easy to talk yourself out of something. Perhaps this is because you feel nervous about the situation, you’re responding to someone’s body language, or you feel low in confidence.
Practise asking for what you want, without over-speaking.
Hold yourself accountable for the conversation and don’t let your mind worry about what the other person is thinking – after all, the only time you will know what they are thinking is when you pause and allow them to speak.
Are you quick to agree to something that you already know you will regret later? Instead of saying “yes” as an automatic way to keep someone happy, consider phrases such as “Let me think about that” or “I need to check my diary later”.
This gives you time to consider if you really want to do something, and takes off the pressure of saying “no” as a first response.
Automatically saying “no” to a friend or colleague can seem daunting if you’re a people pleaser, whereas this method helps you to feel more polite as you stay in control.
Being assertive isn’t just about talking, it’s also about actively listening to the other person in the conversation. This helps to build trust, rapport, and shows that you are interested in the needs of everyone involved.
To listen actively, welcome the person to speak and express their views without interruption or distraction.
If there is something you don’t understand, ask the person to clarify in more detail or repeat back what you heard to ensure that you heard it correctly.
Thank the person for expressing their views and invite them to speak with you in more detail or at another time, if appropriate.
Have a plan
You know what you want, you know who to speak to, but do you know how it would work in practice?
It’s useful to consider every element of any change, including who it may impact and why.
By thinking about this information in advance, it shows that you are open-minded and considerate, especially when working as part of a team.
This will help any decision-maker to understand your point of view and shows broader thinking about how these changes will work in practice.
Watch your tone
Sometimes, assertiveness can be perceived as aggression. Asking for what you want can be scary, but try to be as open and calm as possible.
It’s important to remember that it’s not about winning, but about expressing your opinion while respecting yourself and those around you.
Take ownership of the situation, for example saying “I will need more time to do this”, rather than “You haven’t given me enough time for this”. Keep your voice tone calm and controlled, rather than loud and shouty.
After the conversation, thank the person for listening, as a way to maintain a good working or personal relationship.
Whether you’re asking a loved one to consider your input for the weekend plans, or asking your boss for more resources, you need a level of confidence to put your point across.
This confidence won’t always come naturally, but you can develop this over time by practicing assertiveness in everyday life, and feeling that you have the self-worth to ask for something.
The fear of a person’s reply is often worse than their actual reply, so be brave, and grow your self-esteem and let assertiveness become part of your everyday communication.
It can be hard to use the word “no” when someone asks something of you, this is due to the belief that others will be upset, or cause someone to dislike you.
In fact, assertive use of the word “no” sets healthy boundaries.
If you don’t feel comfortable with using the direct word (without any explanation), then give a reflection, reason or solution, such as asking someone else to help or to attend an event, for example.
Keep the conversation calm and controlled, and remember that you can be firm without displaying any aggression or change in tone of voice.
Now you’re practicing assertiveness as part of your communication style, it’s time to pick your battles.
It is healthy to stand up for what you believe in, but it can become tiring and appears aggressive to others if you are stubborn about everything.
Gain balance by meeting friends and colleagues in the middle where appropriate, and use your new-found energy for the things that really matter. Sometimes, the best thing is to agree to disagree and leave a topic on a positive note.
Have you taken on board these tips but aren’t sure how to apply them in everyday life?
Practise alone, in front of a mirror or by recording your voice on a smartphone, or by asking a friend to help with role play.
This is particularly useful when you need to be assertive in a formal situation, such as an issue at work and will help to build your conversation structure and confidence.
Looking to invite a little more self-care into your life? Katy shares her top 10 steps to self-care for real people here.