It might seem obvious that being assertive just makes sense (“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” and what not). But it’s not that simple. People experience many barriers to asserting themselves, such as:
- Worry about hurting someone’s feelings
- Fear that we might be coming across too aggressively
- Concern about how others might interpret the assertive comment
- Guilt about voicing our needs (or about having needs at all)
- Uncertainty about whether we might be viewed as selfish
- Difficulty even defining our needs
Despite these concerns, the benefits of practicing assertiveness abound, including the potential to
- increase self-confidence.
- gain a sense of empowerment.
- improve communication.
- foster honest relationships.
- decrease resentment.
If you’re like many people and assertiveness feels foreign to you, rest assured that with time and practice, you can learn to hone this skill. However, it’s important to have realistic expectations (if you haven’t voiced your needs in years, recognize that becoming comfortable with assertiveness won’t happen overnight). Here are some ways you can begin practicing today:
- Start with low-risk situations. Speak up, for example, about your choice of restaurant when planning a dinner with friends. When you feel more comfortable with these types of scenarios, you can move on to higher-stakes situations like a conversation with your boss.
- Remain even-keeled. If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed (too angry, too sad, etc.), this can cloud your judgment and influence your words. Take some time to get your feelings in check before entering a conversation where you’ll be practicing assertiveness.
- Plan ahead. Although not always possible, if you do know that a conversation will arise where you will be voicing your needs, think about what you might say. Write a script and rehearse it out loud. You can even ask a friend to help you with a role play.
- Practice “no” as a one-word sentence. “No” clearly defines your boundaries. An explanation isn’t always required. If providing a reason is appropriate, keep it concise.
- Recognize tone and body language. Assertiveness is most effective when practiced with a calm, even tone and friendly, open body language.
- Avoid blaming. Beginning a conversation with blame is rarely beneficial. Instead, use “I” statements to identify how you are feeling, how another person’s actions have affected you and how you’d like things to be different. “I was disappointed when you forgot to call me about the project we were planning. I’d like for you to communicate with me more openly in the future.”
Sometimes it might take reminding yourself why assertiveness is so important—and identifying how your life could improve if you practiced it regularly. With commitment to implementing the tips above, you’ll become more comfortable with clearly voicing your needs.
Are you having difficulty practicing assertiveness? The clinicians at Travco Behavioral Health can help. Contact us today at 330.286.0050!