As a shy, introverted person, who was always a bit of a pushover, I had one wish – to be an assertive confident communicator.
When I say ‘assertive confident communicator’, I mean someone who is self-assured, direct and firm, rather than a loud mouth who bullies their way verbally to get what they want.
My life was typically going with the flow, I’d do whatever the crowd wished, and I often had moments where I got in trouble for something at work, knowing I never actually did anything wrong, but would never stand up for myself.
During moments like this I would often hate myself, thinking “Why didn’t you say anything?…”
I despised my lack of assertiveness, and decided one day I would work on myself to become a confident communicator.
Assertive communicators are confident people
Confident people are highly successful at communicating assertively. This makes them highly successful in their life – to win friends, influence people, and achieve their goals.
Assertiveness is about taking a positive, direct approach allowing you to resolve problems and address issues.
It’s clear confident people are assertive communicators… but how do they do it?
The trick to being a confident and assertive communicator is putting yourself in situation where tough decisions are required. It can be as simple as being in a position where you are given something you don’t want, or voicing your opinion in a positive manner to pushback when you are not happy about something.
The more you do this, the more confident you become asserting yourself – you’ll be comfortable saying no, and spend less time worrying about how your assertive decision may have hurt the feelings of others.
Remember: Assertiveness – not aggression
People often confuse assertiveness with aggression, I’ve worked with perfectly pleasant colleagues who’ve been put in a position of power and turn into a monster, because they think that barking orders is what being a boss is about.
But that is not assertiveness, when you approach a situation to get what you want with aggression you will find that the receiver could take your response personally, creating wider issues, such as not wanting work with you and damaging your reputation.
Assertiveness is about expressing yourself in a direct, but controlled manner so that you can express how your feel, without hurting or belittling the person you’re having a conversation with.
It’s easy to mistake aggressive as being assertive – but assertiveness is more than saying what you think, it’s how you say it.
Check out this post from the Mayo Clinic to understand the difference between assertive, passive, aggressive and passive aggressive behaviour.
How to be more assertive
To get assertiveness right the next section covers off some approaches and tactics to build your confidence, and communicate in an appropriate manner that won’t make you come off as a jerk.
Be more willing to put yourself into situations where you have to make a tough decision
There are opportunities every day you can practice assertiveness:
- When a manager asks you to do something when you’ve already got a busy workload.
- A waiter brings your food with the ‘special sauce’ and you asked for it without.
- When friends peer pressure you to do something.
If you’re reading this, in 99% of scenarios what would you do?
- Cave into the request with no resistance?
- Stick up for your own interests, and put your point across fairly?
Honestly, I’ve often stuck with a. simply so I can have a quiet life ,and because I’ve not wanted to inconvenience or embarrass everyone.
The way to become more assertive is simple – put yourself in more tough situations that require you to be assertive!
Think about the hardest assertive decision you’ve ever made, this will make everything else simple in comparison.
In this post I shared a story about a guy I went to university with.
Although I got on well with him, he was also really lazy and rarely showed up for classes. When it came to doing a group assignment I gave him a second chance.
He betrayed this faith, and continued to put in no effort, never showing up to our meetings. Although it was hard to assert myself in this situation, there was no chance I could let him get away with doing no work and expect a grade off my name.
It was one of the most awful experiences of my life so far, but it was the right decision to make. Whenever I need to be assertive, I keep this decision in mind, it always makes everything so much easier.
Get comfortable saying no – Chris Voss: the four no approach
In his negotiation book Never Split the Difference, former FBI negotiator Chris Voss shares his approach for saying no. I find this method really useful as a crib sheet for building your assertiveness.
Imagine your manager has asked you to take on some additional work that needs doing before the end of the day, and you don’t have any time. To say no to the task, Voss recommends:
(1st No) Turn the request into a question: Simply saying “How am I supposed to do that? I have x, y, and z still to do by close of play, what takes priority?”
This approach lets the other person find solution to the problem, you turn the request back into a question that they must resolve.
(2nd No) “I’m sorry…” statement: You’ll notice, we haven’t said no yet. Nor do we in the second response if we are continued to be pushed.
If you’re manager doesn’t offer solutions and persists, responding with “I’m sorry, I would normally help you, but I really need to get X, Y, Z done.” This is a polite way of saying “No”.
(3rd No) “I’m sorry… I can’t do that” statement: If your manager continues to push, we continue saying “I’m sorry…”, but this time the response is more direct, you’re no longer giving reasons, you’re simply saying you’re not open to doing this task for them today.
(4th No) “I’m sorry… No” statement: Finally, we say “No” for the first time. Done right this will not come across as rude.
If the person continues persisting keep repeating “No” until they get it. I once backed out on a deal to buy a house after having a change of heart. The estate agent called me to convince me to continue with the purchase. She tried to mentally exhaust me, but I just kept repeating “No” until she realised my mind would not be changed.
Stop over thinking how the other person will feel
A major symptom of a pushover is someone who thinks more about other people than themself. To become a confident and assertive communicator, you need to stop thinking how the other person feels when you stand up for yourself!
When I kicked my university friend out of my group for months my mind was racked with guilt – I’d lost a friendship, and knew he was now not going to graduate. He probably hated me for it.
But on reflection thinking about it – who cares? I’d lost a loser as a friend, and his failure to graduate was on him not me. Why should I let someone mooch off my hard work and claim the credit?
A step to becoming more assertive is stop over thinking how the other person feels when you make refuse to be taken advantage of.
If you’re not good at being assertive or consider yourself a pushover, it can feel quite physically and mentally exhausting when you position yourself to push back on what people want you to do.
If you don’t want to keep living your life like this, then this is a pain you must endure. Luckily, the more you stand-up for yourself the easier to becomes.
Doing this has life changing effects – people who took you for granted become more careful approaching you to try and take advantage.
As a take away remember:
- The more you get involved in assertive decisions the better you get.
- Make sure to frame your responses positively and directly to demonstrate true assertiveness.
- Think about a time you struggled to be assertive – use this as the baseline to make all other assertive decisions easier.
- Get comfortable saying no – use the Chris Voss “Four No” method, if you struggle saying the word outright.
- Stop worrying about the feelings of other people, prioritise yourself for once!
How do you demonstrate assertiveness on a daily basis?
Until next time,
Wishing you the best in your success,
James @Perfect Manifesto.