Using the right amount of assertiveness can help you to communicate honestly and clearly; whereas if you’re not assertive enough you may be afraid to speak up. But if on the other hand if you’re too assertive, others may not appreciate the way you interrupt and talk over them.
Similarly a lack of assertiveness may make you agree with other people – even if you feel they’re wrong – while those who are overly assertive are more likely to only consider their own feelings and not those of others.
The trick then is to get the balance right. Here are some tips to help boost your assertiveness without using aggression:
Try to ask for what you want openly and in a straightforward manner, and state your feelings clearly without directly or indirectly demeaning the other person. Speak in a normal conversational tone rather than too softly or too loudly, and don’t make demands or try to appeal to the other person’s emotions to manipulate them or force them into doing something.
Make eye contact
It’s well understood that people respond to those who make eye contact more positively than those who try to avoid eye contact altogether. But make sure you use the right amount – it’s never a good idea to stare (a sure sign of aggressive behaviour), so aim to make eye contact for around 70% of the time. This will help communicate that you’re interested in the other person, that you respect their opinions and that you’re willing to listen to them.
Keep your posture positive
Body language is an essential element of assertiveness. Adopt an upright and relaxed posture, and lean forward slightly towards the other person without infringing on their personal space, keeping your arms hanging down by your sides (don’t fold them). Keep your facial expression neutral or positive – make sure your jaw is soft rather than clenched or set – and avoid using lots of hand movements or dramatic gestures. Try practicing your body posture in the mirror, and if it helps, rehearse what you want to say out loud at the same time.
Do your homework
If you’re making a request, you’ll feel a lot more confident and less likely to become aggressive or defensive if you can back it up calmly when challenged. Do your homework and research first. If you’re asking your employer for a pay rise, for example, prepare your case by noting down why you think you deserve one. This could include how you’ve saved the company money or brought in new business, or the key objectives you’ve met during the past year.
Take time out
If you have a tendency to become angry or frustrated when faced with a difficult situation, try to delay dealing with it until you feel calmer. It may not be easy to always keep your emotions in check, but you’ll have a better chance of doing so if you avoid going into situations with all guns blazing.
Try not to react to situations by blaming others, as the most likely outcome is that you’ll be seen as aggressive while others may feel hurt and become defensive. Use statements that begin with ‘I’ rather than ‘you’, as they’re less likely to make others feel attacked or blamed. For instance, say ‘I disagree’ rather than, ‘you made a mistake’. Or ‘I feel frustrated’ rather than, ‘you make me angry’. This allows you to voice your reactions to the situation instead of putting the other person directly in the frame.
Keep your cool
It’s rarely easy to deal with confrontations, and even the calmest among us can lose control of their emotions if they feel they’re being treated unfairly. But blowing your top isn’t the way to assert yourself effectively. By all means say that you’re angry – after all, you have every right to stand up for yourself if you feel you’re being challenged – but try to do so in a calm and respectful manner.