While it often appears that the world is loaded with people who are fully comfortable with assertive behavior, this is untrue. In reality, a large number struggle with both assertive behavior and assertive communication.
This unfortunate reality stems from how most of us grew up. We were told to be kind to others, to the detriment of our own needs. While it’s great to put others first, there’s a difference between this and letting people walk all over you. Read on for your first steps toward learning how to be assertive.
Practice Someplace Comfortable
Since most people find they have the most trouble being assertive at work, build up your assertive behavior at home, at school or someplace you feel comfortable and at ease. The simplest way to begin is to understand what an assertive statement sounds like. It’s easy to either become aggressive or too passive when faced with a situation we feel is unfair. To avoid this mistake, use the proper language.
Imagine that a boss regularly treats you and your colleagues like dirt, using abusive language and being generally disrespectful. You could lash out and say “You never treat us like human beings! You’re a monster!” This, however, will provoke a negative response. Likewise, shutting up about the situation and quietly seething will provoke no response, and no change.
Structure an assertive statement this way. Identify the issue – state clearly and calmly precisely why you feel wronged. Follow this up by an “I” statement, such as “I feel like you don’t care about your workers.” Finish by clearly describing some concrete, easy steps which could be taken to remedy the situation. When your protest is presented this way, you come across as calm and cool-headed. Better yet, you’re much more likely to change the situation.
Practice statements like these on friends and family. If there’s no argument, try a bit of role-playing. Practice really does make perfect!
Step Into the World of Strangers
Your next step involves being assertive – but always polite – with a total stranger. Shopping for clothing is an excellent way to begin. Find a piece of clothing you like, but which has a tiny hole or a small stain. Ask the manager of the store if they could offer you a discount. Yes, it’s a small step, but steps like this add up. You may consider keeping a record of every assertive behavior exercise to remind yourself of your success.
Step Back and Assess
Once you’re comfortable with assertive behavior regarding friends and strangers, you’re ready to consider assertive communication with an authority figure. However, it’s critical that you learn to discern when an assertive response is needed. Thankfully, there’s a great test for this. It’s easy for us to feel personally affronted. The next time this happens or any time you feel that assertiveness is called for, ask yourself one question – would you feel comfortable letting a friend or loved on be treated this way? If the answer is no, it’s time to stand up for yourself. Remember to always be polite, calm and cool – the last thing you want is to provoke an attack. While you can’t control the reactions of others – they may become aggressive or angry even though you were polite – remember that it’s what you say and how you say it that counts.