Assertive communication involves expressing your thoughts and feelings, your wants and needs in a direct and respectful way, knowing at the same time, that others have the same right. Assertiveness helps us be open in our communication and establish good relationships based on respect and honesty. Like any skill, assertiveness can be learned with practice.
In our previous blog post, we covered in detail what assertive communication is, compared it with two other common communication styles – passive and aggressive – and talked about its risks and benefits. But how exactly can you become more assertive? How to have that healthy confidence to stand up for yourself? What to do, what to say?
Here are 4 basic tips and principles that can help you on your way of becoming more assertive:
1. Recognize your values and your rights
Assertiveness is about standing up for your rights, beliefs, and values. It is about respecting ourselves enough to be OK with who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Thus, it’s important to define our values clearly and to realize that we have the right to live in line with them, as long as we do not violate the rights of others. When we are sure about our priorities and know we have the right to ask for what we want (which is not the same as necessarily getting it), practicing assertiveness becomes easier. Defining your core values and recognizing your assertive rights will help you make decisions with more confidence.
2. Practice saying NO
Rejecting someone’s request is uncomfortable for most people. However, learning to say no in a respectful way is necessary for setting healthy boundaries with others and with ourselves. A helpful first step toward feeling less guilty for saying no may be to recognize that you are rejecting the request, not the whole person, and that your wants and needs are as important as wants and needs of others. In the end, practice saying no with the simple realization that you are going to feel uncomfortable. The whole point is to build tolerance to this discomfort.
3. Communicate clearly and respectfully
Assertiveness is a golden middle between passive and aggressive behaviour. Thus, it is important to learn to express your wants and needs in a way that is direct enough, but not aggressive. The key is in confidence and honesty with respect toward others.
While paying attention to the words you say, don’t forget to keep your body language in check. Assertive communication is marked by open body language – straight posture, relaxed facial expression, kind but firm tone of the voice, smiling. If you communicate passively, your body language will be closed, stiff, you’ll avoid eye contact. On the other hand, in an aggressive communication style, there is are frequent head shakes in disagreement, eye rolls, loud or threatening voice, quick body movements.
If your tone of the voice, facial expressions, and gestures are incongruent with the words you say, people will tend to believe non-verbal signs over your verbal message.
4. Take responsibility
It is important to keep in mind that everybody is responsible for their behaviour. It is not your job to control how other people act or feel, but you are responsible for your own actions and feelings. Nobody can make you behave or feel a certain way – other people choose their actions, and you chose yours.
So how does assertive communication look like in practice? How to phrase what you want to say without shying away or coming off as too pushy? This little cheat sheet of assertive communication may be helpful on that:
Step 1: Address the behaviour, not the person
You can start by clearly describing specific actions that you are not OK with in a non-judgmental way. While doing this, it’s crucial to avoid pointing fingers and trying to induce feelings of shame or guilt in them. Describe the situation as you see it but try to be as objective as possible. Don’t exaggerate by using words such as always or never. For example, instead of saying “You are always late”, you may try saying something like: “You are 15 minutes late for the third time this week”.
One mistake that is often made in conflicts is labeling the person instead of addressing the behaviour. When the focus is on what someone is perceived to be rather than the behaviour they exhibit, the productive communication usually shuts because the person feels attacked and in need to defend their character. Instead, talking about specific actions in a non-judgmental way increases the chances of the other person focusing on solving the problem instead of becoming defensive and feeling the need to protect their sense of self.
For example, instead of saying: “You are so selfish”, you may try with: “I think that this specific action you did was inconsiderate”. See the difference? Starting the conversation in this manner does not guarantee that the person will not get defensive at all, but it can decrease the chances of this happening and increase the possibility of coming to a positive result.
Step 2: Use “I statements”
Sometimes describing the behaviour that you don’t like and asking for it to change is enough. However, it can often be useful to let the other person know how you feel and what you need in a particular situation. Express your feelings and needs in a clear and open manner that’s at the same time non-blaming and non-critical. While doing this, you should be careful to frame the communication from your perspective, describing how you feel.
Avoid focusing on the other person, or trying to blame them for how you feel. Instead, share your emotions and your needs in the context of their actions. For example, instead of saying: “You don’t help enough around the house”, you may say: “When you don’t help out with the housework, I feel overwhelmed”. This way, you take responsibility for your emotions (because don’t forget, nobody can make us feel the way we feel; we respond to what is happening according to our thoughts and beliefs), but simultaneously address the problematic behaviour.
Note that, sometimes, these “I statements” can seem like emotions, but they are really just about other person’s actions. For example, when you say something like: “I feel…manipulated, ignored, mistreated”, you don’t express genuine emotions. What you’re really saying is: “You manipulate, ignore, mistreat me”, which is, again, describing other person’s behaviour or, more precisely, how you understand their behaviour. “You statements” can sound overly blaming and critical, which, again, moves the focus of communication from finding a solution to self-protection.
Step 3: Listen actively and put yourself in other people’s shoes
Just listening is not enough for good communication. We need to be actively listening. Active listening means that we are fully engaged in a conversation, that we are trying to truly understand the message the other person is trying to convey, and that we are putting effort into making the other person feel heard, understood, and safe to speak. This means that we will show interest in what the other person has to say by, for example, nodding, leaning forward, not interrupting them, etc.
The key is listening to understand, not to respond. When we are focused on what we want to say next, we are focused on ourselves, not on the other person. That can prevent truly hearing and understanding their message, which can further lead to misunderstandings, bitter feelings, and overall unproductive communication.
Trying to see things from another person’s perspective and to acknowledge how they understand the situation can be incredibly helpful in creating a productive dialog. It can make the other person feel heard, understood, and respected, which makes them more likely to listen to you openly, and less likely to get offended.
Step 4: Offer a solution
People can’t read your mind. You can state what you’d like to happen next, or invite the other person for a discussion to find a mutually satisfying solution. You can say something like:
“I would like…”
“I think… What do you think?”
“I appreciate your concerns, what do you suggest we do? How can we get around this problem?”
Putting it all together, here are some examples of assertive communication:
“This is the fourth time this month that I’m doing extra work because you have fallen behind. I understand that you are busy, and I want to be a team player, but I am under a lot of stress when this happens. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I completely understand what you are trying to say, but I will have to disagree. I see the situation this way. How can we find a common ground?”
“When you are late to our dates, like you were the last three times, I feel frustrated because I need to wait. Also, I feel hurt because it seems to me like I am not a priority. I would appreciate it if you would respect my time and arrive promptly the next time.”
“I understand that you need my help, and I would like to help you, but I really need to take care of myself today because I feel run-down. How about tomorrow?”
“No, thank you” (Yes, this is perfectly fine to say, no need for excuses or explanations)
Assertive communication can feel stressful at first, especially if you’re used to another form of communication. Remember your assertive rights, take a deep breath, and dive into it. It becomes much easier with practice, and the benefits are numerous.
Do you find it difficult to communicate assertively? What are your experiences with this style of communication? Let us know in the comment section below. Additionally, be free to share this article on your social media; who knows, maybe someone finds it useful and get inspired to improve their communication skills.
Duckworth, M. P. (2009). Assertiveness skills and the management of related factors. General principles and empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, 124-132.
Duckworth, M. P., & Mercer, V. (2006). Assertiveness training. In Practitioner’s guide to evidence-based psychotherapy (pp. 80-92). Springer, Boston, MA.
Are you very critical of yourself? Do you often tend to focus on your negatives rather than your accomplishments? Are you often comparing yourself with others? Do you engage in negative self-talk? If you said yes to one or more statements above, you may have a low self-esteem.
Self-esteem refers to thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we have about ourselves. However, it is not something we are born with, so it is amenable to change. When we think negatively about ourselves, it lowers our self-esteem. How we feel and think about ourselves extends to how we look and behave. Having high self-esteem helps us overcome difficulties and obstacles with ease while having low self-esteem makes us focus on our weaknesses and mistakes setting us up for failure. An example of improving self-esteem would be a climbing tower that aims to make people feel more confident and positive about themselves when they are faced with challenges.
There are a myriad number of causes of low self-esteem. It could be due to difficult experiences in childhood, negative life events, past relationships, stress, negative thinking patterns, discrimination, loneliness, trauma or abuse.
However, no matter what the cause, its impact is the same. Low self-esteem leads to negative thinking which might, over time, even lead to mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Low self-esteem limits your career and social development.
Changing the way you think about yourself changes the way you feel about yourself.
So how do we go about increasing our self-esteem? Here are 5 easy tips:
1. Positive Self-talk
How you think about yourself marks the cornerstone of your self-esteem. If you constantly tell yourself you’re no good, you might start to believe it. Self-talk is your inner voice, your thoughts that you don’t say out loud. Negative self-talk makes you feel bad about yourself. It could be something like ‘I look fat in those jeans’, or ‘everyone thinks I am dumb’, or ‘everything is going wrong with my life, nothing is going to change’. These statements act to bring you down. Over time, you start to believe them as if they were true. This results in negative thinking which opens the door for further problems including mental disorders.
Ok, But How Do I Counter Negative Self-talk With Positive One?
In order to bring about change in your self-talk, the first step is to notice what you have been saying to yourself so far. Hear what your inner voice is saying. If needed, even write it down. Once you have started listening to your inner voice carefully, assess it.
- Are you engaging in more positive or negative self-talk?
- Are you keeping things in perspective?
- Is there actual evidence for what you’re thinking?
- Can you try to look at it differently?
- If a friend was in a similar situation, what would you say to him or her?
- Can you change the situation somehow to feel better about it?
Once you have monitored and assessed your self-talk, you need to change it. Counter negative thoughts with positive ones. Omit ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘ought’ from your self-talk. These words put unnecessary pressure on you to perform. Do a quick reality check when you encounter a negative thought. Assess the truth in the statement.
- Do you have evidence for the thought?
- What about the evidence against the thought?
- Are you jumping to conclusions, negative ones at that?
Try to look at alternative explanations for the situation.
- Can you try to look at the situation from a different perspective?
- How would an optimist look at this situation?
Put the situation into perspective. Look at the bright side.
- What best can come out of the situation?
- Will this matter in a years’ time? Five years’? Ten years’?
Jump into action mode. Make goals to counter the thinking.
- How do I solve this problem?
- Have I learned something from the situation?
- Will this learning help me in the future
2. Assertiveness Training
Oftentimes, it is others who bog us down. They say nasty, cruel things making us feel bad about ourselves. We believe their words which start resonating within and become our inner voice. This needs to change.
Being assertive means you value yourself and set clear boundaries. Here’s how to go about being assertive-
- Use ‘I’ statements. Say statements that start with ‘I’ such as ‘I think…’ or ‘I feel…’. Statements starting with ‘you’ are often misinterpreted leading to an argument or fight. Avoid saying statements that start with ‘you always…’ or ‘you never…’.
- Let go of guilt. Are you that person who wants to do everything for everyone and always wants to be there for everyone? Yes, this tip is especially for you. You can’t. You can’t do everything, you can’t be everywhere and you can’t please everyone. So stop feeling guilty when you can’t attend your child’s recital, can’t bake a cake for your husband’s birthday or couldn’t meet a friend who was in the city for only a day. You don’t have to do it all to be a better person. You already are one.
- Express your feelings. Be honest and tell others how you feel or what you want. Be clear, specific, honest and respectful. Focus on the real issue and say it out loud. For example, you might be cribbing about the towel on the floor but the real issue might be that you want your spouse to spend time with you. Say it loud clearly.
- Learn to say no. You aren’t being selfish when you’re saying no; you’re simply setting healthy limits. Identify your boundaries, be it physical, emotional or mental. Know how far you can go and tolerate. Stick to these boundaries and don’t let anyone transcend your limits.
- Agree to disagree. Having a different point of view doesn’t mean you are right and the other person is wrong. Talk it out. Respect the other person’s point of view. You might not agree with them but it doesn’t mean you are right in what you think. Be tolerant of other viewpoints.
3. Stop comparing yourself to others
A great deal of low self-esteem comes from the fact that we compare ourselves with others who are better off than us. We don’t have that limo, that bungalow, that job or that petite figure. Social media sites heighten this social comparison where we nag our spouse about the fact that our colleague went on a vacation to a country miles away while we haven’t gone on one for so long.
Stop doing that! Stop comparing yourself to others. Compete against yourself. You don’t know that person, their life or what is it really like to be them. And even if you do, you are not that person. You have a different life and a different set of priorities. Compete with yourself on how you can better your grades, lose weight, get that salary package or simply eat healthy. Take a step ahead from where you were earlier; engage in a healthy competition with yourself instead.
4. Set realistic expectations
If you plan to lose 11 pounds in a week, you are setting yourself up for failure. Having unrealistic expectations makes you feel worse about yourself. Set realistic goals that are achievable. Setting expectations from others also set us up for failure. Wishing your spouse won’t criticize you might not work until you tell him or her so and make sure he or she works on it. Check your expectations if they keep disappointing you. There’s a chance you have set them too high.
5. Take a 2-minute break
Break from what, you ask? Break from putting yourself down. Take a 2-minute break to highlight your accomplishments and to appreciate yourself. Every day, set aside 2 minutes to ask yourself what 3 things you appreciate about yourself. It could be something you mean to your family, friends or colleagues or it could be a skill you are good at. These don’t have to be big things. Small but meaningful things work best. Write down these three things every day in a journal. An added benefit of this exercise is that you can go back and look through it when you are feeling low. This little break will help you put everything in perspective and rev your mood.
These tips work great when you actually get down to practicing them in real life. They will take some time and lots of practice, however. Don’t give up though. There’s sunshine at the end of the night. Keep trying and you will get there.
On the last note, I personally think you are awesome!