6 Tips For Mastering Assertiveness
By: Danni Peck
Updated October 25, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW
Are you one of those people who walks away from a conversation thinking “I should have said that”? Do you wish you could work up the courage, just once, to say what you feel?
An assertive person is often respected for having the courage to say what they feel without being aggressive. Have you ever felt an attraction to someone simply because they appeared confident and assured in what they were saying? There is also a finesse to being assertive. If there is no finesse, then the person’s assertiveness skills are clouded by arrogance.
So how do you act assertively without coming off as bigheaded? While this can be done, even those who master the art of being assertive may be seen as egotistical by someone who experiences difficulty in their attempts to be assertive.
How Do You Define Assertiveness?
One assertiveness definition is to be confident without being hostile. It is important that this assertiveness meaning is interpreted properly as someone who is acting confidently but is talking down to everyone can be seen as condescending. Assertiveness is different in that it is a classier manner of communication. You might even say that “classy” is a kind of assertiveness synonym.
There are several kinds of assertiveness training programs out there for those who are simply tired of being walked on by their bosses, their families, their friends, and even people they may not know all that well, which is arguably worse. Assertiveness training worksheets can also be used to reevaluate your methods of communication to ensure you are communicating with others more assertively.
6 Tips For Mastering Assertiveness
The good news is that it is never too late to change. Even if people have seen you as a pushover for most of your life, today is a new day. You can start working on your communication now so that when the time comes that you need to be assertive, you will be practiced and ready to go.
What follows is a list of six tips that can help you master your brand of assertiveness.
1. Communication For Expression, Not Influence
This may be the biggest misconception about assertiveness in a nutshell. When someone is speaking assertively, they are trying to convey their thoughts in a clear and concise manner. They are confident about the words that are coming out of their mouth, leaving little room for miscommunication.
When someone is assertive, the goal is to communicate clearly, not to change the other person’s mind. When the speaker is attempting to do the latter, especially if they do so in a forceful manner, this is when they have crossed the line from assertiveness into arrogance.
2. Practice the Art of Saying “No”
One of the main gripes most people have in those “I should have said that” scenarios is that they didn’t say “no”…
- “Can you work this weekend?”
- “Is it okay if I bring my brother on our date?”
- “Can I copy your homework?”
- “Can my mother move in with us?”
- “Can you watch my child for longer than we had originally agreed?”
Do any of these situations sound familiar? In at least one of these moments, you may have muttered a seething “fine” or “okay” when you wanted to say, “Are you kidding me right now?! No!” But, to be agreeable, you simply hung your head and begrudgingly obliged, hoping the other person would notice your misery (which, of course, they either didn’t notice or did notice but set their needs as a priority).
It may seem silly, but you need to practice saying “no.” Act it out with a friend or family member, or stand in front of a mirror. Come up with a host of scenarios that have either happened to you in the past that you wish you could fix or that you see being a possibility in your future. Then, practice saying “no” and how you would say it. You can also try saying “no” in smaller situations to help you build up the confidence to say “no” in bigger situations.
Pay attention to your body language to ensure that you are satisfied with how you are getting your message across. Hands on hips may be too aggressive, while constant fidgeting can be a sign of insecurity.
The better you get at saying “no,” the less likely it is that you will be taken advantage of again in the future. Again, though, be careful that you don’t cross the line from assertive into arrogant. Saying no is only reasonable when the situation you have been placed in is not. Saying “no” because your mother-in-law wants to borrow your gravy boat may make you seem like a jerk – unless, of course, the gravy boat is a treasured heirloom that hasn’t been used in 75 years.
3. Master Your Tone
This tip goes hand-in-hand with tip #2. The way in which you express yourself is almost as important, perhaps even more so, as the words you use to do it. What many folks who are practicing being assertive have noticed is that they are so fed up with being walked all over that by the time they decide to work on their assertiveness, they are already at the breaking point.
When you’re feeling angry, hurt, or apathetic, this can greatly affect your tone, which can change your message completely. You want to sound as nonaggressive as possible, and you do this by remaining calm and refusing to allow your emotions to dominate your responses.
For instance, instead of barking, “This is b.s.!” at your superiors, consider something softer instead. Something like “I understand your approach and would like to offer my potential solutions to the problem to see if they’re a better fit.” This response has a better chance at being effective. This is the very definition of the idea that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
Pay attention to your tone when you’re practicing in front of the mirror. Is this a tone you would be comfortable using in an office setting? If not, then you are probably too aggressive, and you need to dial it down.
4. Take the Past Out of the Equation
One of the quickest ways to get worked up is to focus on past hurts. Forget the past. It was behind you, over and done with. The best way to improve your quality of life is to focus on what you can do today to brighten your future.
When attempting to communicate with someone on a recurrent issue, you can mention how the issue has been a problem in the past and continued to be a problem in the present. However, instead of dwelling on those incidents, you can instead add that from this point forward, you will do everything you can to change the situation for the positive going forward so that it never becomes a problem again.
This is especially true for intimate relationships. Few people can hurt you worse than your family members. But by rehashing and harping on recurrent problems, you can instead talk about how you are going to fix the problem going forward.
It is important that you stick to your guns on this one. Some people are toxic, family or not. If your solution going forward is to cut someone out of your life because it’s the best thing you can do for your mental health, then you need to be strong enough to not only say it but also to do it.
5. Use “I” Instead of “You”
When you use the word “you” instead of “I,” this changes the tone of the conversation. The use of “I” conveys a take-charge attitude: “I think we can find a solution to this problem.” The use of “you,” however, can come off as aggressive: “You never listen to me when I talk!”
The less accusatory you are, the more responsive the person you are speaking to will be. Plus, no one wants to cooperate with someone who seems like they’re always on the attack. Using “I” implies that you are an empowered person, and people are drawn to those who take responsibility, rather than those who indulge in the blame game.
6. Drop the Guilt Complex
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably tired of being a people pleaser. You may even feel guilty for the way you’ve let people walk all over you. But it’s impossible to be assertive if you’re feeling guilty over past mistakes.
It may be incredibly difficult to change your way of thinking, especially if you’ve been stuck in a pattern for so long. But it is crucial to your mental health that you work on viewing things in a more positive light. For instance, instead of feeling guilty about having to borrow your sister’s car because you totaled yours, it might be more beneficial to think along the lines of “My sister is so helpful. I will reward her for her kindness by acting responsibly in the future.”
Sometimes we need a little professional help to get us going in the right direction, especially if we have well-worn patterns of being nonassertive. An in-person or online therapist can teach you techniques to change your thinking and behavior patterns for the better. This is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You can also practice being assertive with your therapist. Your therapist won’t judge you and will provide a safe space for you to explore why you might be feeling like you can’t say no.
If you’re considering online therapy, a study of 26 participants who were either enrolled in online cognitive behavioral therapy or in-person cognitive behavioral therapy for treatment for their anxiety and mood disorders found that the results were comparable. Both groups experienced a decrease in symptoms related to their mental health conditions. The working alliance between therapist and each participant and participant satisfaction were also comparable. It was found that there was a preference for videoconferencing for reducing symptoms of stress. This aspect of online therapy can be especially beneficial if you’re experiencing stress when working on being assertive with people.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
Would you like more information on how to be more assertive in your everyday conversations? Consider reaching out to one of our BetterHelp counselors or therapists. They are available 24/7 for guidance and advice, and you can meet with them in the comfort of your own home or wherever you feel most comfortable. Read the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
Really good support and communication. I’m very grateful for all the help and the tools she’s given me to be more assertive and everything else we worked on.
When cv19 hit it sent me into panic mode. Unable to get help locally I turned to BetterHelp and I’m so glad I did. On and off I have worked with various mental health practitioners since I was a teen but nobody has been able to help me the way Naomi has, most just chuck medication at me until I feel numb. Despite being in a different continent Naomi has supported me through several things that would normally have me shutting myself off; from being unable to work to health diagnoses, applying for and starting university to navigating and rebuilding my life after being widowed . Each issue or problem Naomi’s calm guidance and way of breaking things down has meant I have been empowered to handle things. Other people have noticed a positive change in me. I have been able to start saying no to people rather than trying to do everything, more importantly for me Naomi has shown me how to stop many of the negative thought spirals which has far lessened the fear and panic. So, a, huge thank you.
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