Why improve your assertiveness?
If you lack assertiveness, it can affect your relationships both personally and professionally. Being unable to communicate your needs clearly, or unable to challenge ideas or beliefs that don’t fit with your own, can cause tension between yourself and others. You may, for example, believe that people aren’t listening to you and become resentful, leading to a build-up of anger and outbursts of rage. When this kind of behaviour lasts a long time, it can lead to stress, anxiety or even depression.
By looking carefully at how you communicate with others, you can begin to identify ways in which you can be more assertive and help to improve your quality of life.
How to improve your assertiveness
With a bit of practice or training, most people can learn how to become more assertive. It’s a communication skill that you can improve and get better at using in your everyday life.
The way in which you hold yourself has an important impact on how you’re perceived and treated. Assertive people generally stand upright, but in a relaxed manner, and look people calmly in the eyes.
A good first step to becoming more assertive is to consider your own body language. You can practise being assertive with a friend or in front of a mirror by:
- facing the other person, or yourself, and trying to stay calm
- speaking clearly and steadily
- showing that you’re listening
- matching your body language to what you’re saying
Clear communication is an important part of assertiveness. Some examples are listed below.
- Express your feelings. Try not to generalise your feelings by saying “you” in conversation when you actually mean “I”. Also, you should recognise that you have choices and so say “I could” and “I might” instead of “I must” and “I should”.
- Say no. This is often difficult because you don’t want to feel like you’re letting people down, be seen as unhelpful, unable to cope, or just find the other person intimidating. However, it’s important to remember that you’re allowed to say no. Keep the conversation clear and simple and don’t apologise for saying no.
- The ‘broken record’ technique. This involves repeating your point over and over again in a calm and firm voice until it’s clear to the other person. It’s particularly useful if you’re explaining something to a manipulative person, or someone who isn’t listening.
Try searching on the internet to find out details of assertiveness classes available in your area. Always find out how experienced the counsellor or therapist is before you start classes. Availability of classes may vary from country to country.
Self-help books and resources on the internet can also be helpful if you would rather teach yourself the skills you need.
Counselling or psychotherapy
If you think past experiences are having a negative influence on the way you behave, it may help to talk through these experiences with a trained counsellor. This may bring back painful memories of unpleasant experiences you have had, but it can help you to understand why you act as you do. It will help you to think differently about yourself and to have positive, assertive behaviour.
You may also find cognitive behavioural therapy useful. This is a therapy that involves helping you to overcome unhelpful patterns in the way you think and behave, including aggressive and passive behaviour.