How often do we talk about wanting to be more assertive? Wanting to have more confidence to say no or to push back and value ourselves more? Yet, in the same message, how many people do we know that we feel are just difficult as*holes who say no to everything? They may be cynical, oppositional, aggressive or just generally unhelpful? Guess what. There is a middle ground. You can be assertive without being an a**hole and this post is going to tell you how.
Firstly, when we talk about being assertive and building the confidence to be more assertive, what does that actually mean? Being assertive is ultimately about being able to stand up for what you or others believe in a calm and positive way without being aggressive, or passively aggressive. Note the importance in this sentence around “calm and positive” – this is generally the part where people fall down.
We’ve all been there – we all get frustrated and might become aggressive (either directly or passively), but regular outbursts like this are unhelpful, they make people not want to work with you (or for you!) and basically make you a bit of a jerk!
Often, I find the challenge with us as women is that we aren’t confident enough to be assertive, so we become passive. We let ourselves go to the beat of someone else’s drum instead of putting our own thoughts and opinions out on the table. We will be the one to take on someone else’s work, cop someone else’s incompetence because we don’t want to push back or rock the boat. This type of behaviour also comes from the need for approval – for more on this and the shadow that comes with chronic people pleasing, check out my recent blog post about it here.
Let’s talk through an example of a passive response when it comes to assertiveness.
Someone asks you at work “Do you think you can find time today to do this report for me?”.
A typical passive reply to this would be something along the lines of… “Yes, I can get to it later this afternoon after I have done the weekly reporting, made the follow up calls I need to and respond back to my outstanding emails”.
A far more appropriate and assertive response would have been. “No, sorry I won’t be able to today as I am pretty loaded up with other deadlines. I could look at this for you tomorrow though if you still need”. In addition, and if relevant, you could also suggest instead of doing it tomorrow for this person, that instead you sit with them and show them how to do it (This will naturally depend on the situation though).
The person in the first response really does not have the time, but their answer does not convey this message. The second response is assertive. It is calm, honest and still provides an alternative for the person making the request. If you become known as the person who cannot say no, you will continue to be loaded up with tasks from others (potentially that they should be doing themselves!) and you run not only the risk of burnt out but at the very least not being able to prioritise your own needs and your own tasks.
So, back to assertiveness. How do you just become assertive? You can start being assertive right now if you want to. Assertiveness is about sharing your thoughts. It is not about pushing them over other people’s or being aggressive. Assertiveness is putting your ideas on the table as well as hearing other people’s too. Sometimes people who are more passive and decide they want to become more assertive get it wrong. They go from one extreme of not sharing anything and just nodding yes all the time, to forcefully pushing their opinions down other’s throats and not taking anything else on board.
Assertiveness sits in the middle.
Here are some tips on how you can be assertive without being an as*hole.
- Keep your emotions in check – the second you start pointing the finger, talking loudly over others or crossing your arms in frustration, you’ve just gone from assertive to a-hole in 0.5 seconds. Check yo-self.
- Limit qualifying words – When you put words on the front of your sentences like “I think maybe….”, or “I’m guessing that….”, or “I could be wrong, but…”, you automatically limit your own credibility and look like you aren’t confident in your own opinion. This doesn’t make you an a**hole, but it makes you passive.
- Conversely to the above tip, it is also unhelpful to start sharing your opinions in the manner that is condescending to others. Be aware when sharing your opinion that ultimately you want others to buy into it. Outwardly criticising others ideas won’t get you this.
- Put options on the table – Although this might feel like you aren’t putting all your eggs into your basket, you actually are. By providing options, you are making others feel like you have considered other scenarios, other points of view, but guess what, they are all YOUR scenarios. Control the options and influence the outcome assertively.
- Be OK with silence. You’ve said your piece, now wait. Don’t keep pushing your own agenda or filling the silence with your own voice, just let the other parties consider your opinion and wait.
Assertiveness is one of the primary areas that women cite as being something they find challenging to do. Try these tips above and see the confidence you start building just by putting yourself out there.
Good luck and please let me know how you go!
I help women get out of their own ways. I help you deal with the overthinking. The Imposter Syndrome. The self-doubt. All the things currently getting in your way of being a confident, kick a** woman in your workplace and in your life.
Need help? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s see how I can help you. Our first phone consultation is completely obligation free.
Keen advocate for helping you get the f*ck out of your own way!