assertive people staring at you

Practice becoming assertive

If you want to become more assertive, it is very important that you… become more assertive. I understand that this is, of course, an annoyingly obvious answer, but I think it’s important to emphasize it.

A lot of people want to become an assertive person and only then start actually being assertive. Unfortunately, that is not the way it goes. Just like with any other skill you will have to practice assertiveness to become assertive. The first time you practice, it probably won’t go perfectly, but the more often you do it, the better it will go.

Don’t expect things to go well all at once; give yourself the time and opportunity to practice.

Practicing assertive behavior is always positive. Even if it goes ‘wrong’, you have learned how not to do it. 

Examining beliefs

  • I’m not allowed to put myself first, the other persons satisfaction is most important.
  • I have to do anything to avoid someone getting angry with me.
  • People don’t like me until I do what they want.
  • If someone else is angry with me, I’ve made a wrong move…
  • Everybody knows what I want…

These kinds of beliefs can get in your way if you want to become more assertive.

For example, if you think everyone knows what you want, you won’t be inclined to tell them. Then it’s likely to frustrate you if they don’t do what you want them to do. Maybe you even blame them. In the end, it often leads to anger and misunderstanding.

Another belief works much better. If you assume that people don’t know what you want, it’s much more obvious to tell them.

The other person can then assess whether he/she wants to take your needs into account or not.

If they indicate that they want to take your needs into account and yet they don’t, maybe you can explain it once more. Only after that is it more logical to actually get angry with them. This type of anger will be much more logical to the other person.

The above is just one example of a belief that is useful for change. The beliefs you have are personal. 

Fight fear to become assertive

People who are not very assertive often find it scary to suddenly start being assertive. They are afraid that people will get angry with them, that they won’t be able to express themselves properly or that something terrible will happen when they are assertive.

In practice, this turns out to go better than was expected. The problem is that subassertive people never see this in real life practice. After all, if you say “yes” to every request, you will never see what happens if you say “no”.

That is why it is very important that you do things that you are afraid of. In the case of assertiveness this means that you stand up for yourself and say no if necessary. That’s very frightening at first, but that’s not a bad thing. After a while you will see that things start getting better and better.

Learning social skills

Learning social skills is a complex subject.

On one hand, learning “tricks” that make social interaction more convenient is possible.

On the other hand, you have to make sure that you don’t start thinking: “I need to know exactly how everything should be done before I try anything”.

So social skills can be useful, but don’t count on them too much.

An example of a social trick is the “I-message”. When we practice with your limits during assertiveness training, we often hear these kinds of sentences:

“It’s really rude of you to leave this work with me.”

If you say this to a colleague, there is a very good chance that he or she will enter into discussion with you. He’ll try to convince you it’s not rude. The message you are trying to convey will most likely not get across.

If you wrap this in an “I-message” it often works much better. For example:

“I’m bothered that you’re handing this work over to me.”

This message is often much easier to digest. You are not saying that your colleague has done something wrong, you are only communicating that you do not like their behaviour.

This trick does not always work. Some people take all criticism personally. Still, it is a handy trick, because in many cases it helps to bring your point across.

It’s good to mention that practicing helps you to gain other beliefs, to get your fear under control and to get more skills.

Imagine that you find it difficult to say no. One day you pluck up your courage and say “no” to a request from your boss. He asks you again, more compellingly, to help him and at that moment you give in.

Maybe you see this as a negative outcome, but that is not the case. After all, you have learned that saying no does not get you fired immediately (beliefs). In addition, you have experienced that you can do what you want, even though this is might be nervewracking (dealing with fear). Finally, you have learned that with “saying no” it is useful to think about what you are going to do if the other person does not agree. (skill).

By just doing it, the chance that you’re going to do it again becomes larger and larger. Read the 5 tips on the following page.

Tips so you can be more assertive:

What are the steps you can take today if you want to become more assertive? Below are some tips to get started:

Tip 1: What do you really want?

Ask yourself what you really want. You can even do this without talking about it with others. Many people who are sub-assertive, have taught themselves to think about the interests of others. That’s why they have forgotten what they themselves like.

Before you can communicate what you want, it is important to start discovering what you want. So in the coming time, in various situations, ask yourself what would be the most pleasant outcome for you.

Tip 2: no once, no twice!

Some people are afraid to say “no” to a request. They are afraid that the other person will get angry if they don’t do what he says.

On top of that there is often the fear that they can’t cope with a discussion. “If I say no and the other person starts a discussion, I don’t know what to say.” That’s why they don’t say no at all.

So get used to saying no at least once. If the other person starts a discussion, you can give in straight away. Once that feels right, you can start experimenting with saying no twice. In this way you slowly build up a discussion.

Tip 3: Find the fear

If you want to get rid of your fear, it is important that you are often confronted with that fear. Assertiveness is a form of social fear, so it is useful to look up that fear. Exercises you can do are:

Talk louder just about anywhere on purpose

Say hello to everyone on the street (or look people straight in the eye if you find saying hello to everyone too big of a step

More often people ask for simple things. Your neighbours for sugar, your colleague to get coffee and your partner to do something in the house.

Ask for a discount

Having a chat with a random someone on the street.

I’m sure you can come up with your own exercises that will help you. Choose one that feels exciting, but doesn’t absolutely scare you.

Tip 4: Be nice

With assertiveness we usually think of saying no, standing up for your own interests and protecting your rights. However, you can even work on assertiveness in a positive setting.

Suppose, for example, that you are on a birthday. You would like to get to know a certain someone, but think that that person doesn’t want to and therefore you don’t take the first step.

This is typical sub-assertive behaviour. You make the other person’s needs greater than your own needs.

So in such a situation it is much better to just go for it. The other person can then always express that they don’t feel the need to get to know you(although that is of course very inappropriate on a birthday and not very likely to happen at all).

Most people find it exciting to take the first step; it say a lot about you when you do take that step.  

Tip 5: practice aggressive behaviour

This is an advanced tip. Once you dare to practice with assertive behavior, it is a nice challenge to practice with aggressive behavior.

A journalist student once researched aggressive behavior. She ctut the line buying coffee at the trainstation, held a loud telephone conversation in the silence compartment and tried to bargain in the local supermarket.

What struck her is that most people just ignored her. There were no negative consequences at all to her behaviour. It is very instructive for most sub-assertive people to experience that. Not because you have to become aggressive as well, but so that you are not afraid to be aggressive if you ever have to.

If you want more help with becoming assertive we highly recommed the following training on Udemy.