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Six Steps to Become Assertive (and Nice)

Six Steps to Becoming Assertive (and Nice)
Image by malias.

Note: This is a guest post by Jennifer of Principles for Peace.

Lori Jewett of Between Us Girls wrote an excellent guest post on the Positivity Blog titled 5 Compelling Reasons to be More Assertive. I thought I would follow up with that post on some specific steps, ways to become more assertive.

What is assertiveness?

First of all, I wanted to clear up any misconceptions about this word assertiveness and what it is. Often when people hear the word assertiveness they think of aggressiveness, being mean, pushy or bossy. While some people are that way, that is actually not assertiveness. Assertiveness is healthy, good for everyone involved. Assertiveness is a way to get your needs met without offending others. It is so powerful, yet no one is hurt. That does not mean that people will not at first reject your new found assertiveness. However, if they do, they will eventually respect you, because real assertiveness involves both respect for yourself and the other person.

Before I get into the “how to’s” of assertiveness, let me first of all say that I used to be the least assertive person ever born. I was always afraid of rejection and wanted to keep the peace. Learning to be assertive gave me so much power and freedom – all at the expense of no one. It gave me all the benefits that Lori outlined in her great post.

Some of the material in this post I learned from a non profit program, www.sftawareness.org. I am who I am today because of Ron Wilkins (the pioneer of this program) and Gary Washer, an excellent SFT trainer. The rest of it I learned from experience along the way.

Six Never Fail Ways to be Assertive

1. As we have already stated, respect both yourself and the other person (or people) involved. It all starts here. This is the foundation. Respect of everyone is necessary.

2. Always begin with a disarming statement. Begin with any of the following statements. You may find a few others along the way, but these will always work. Choose any one of these depending on the situation and your personal preference. In some instances, you may use more than one, but usually one will suffice:

  • Compliment the other person. The compliment must be sincere. Saying “Thank you.” is considered a compliment, but of course is not the only way. Something like, “You really mean a lot to me” or “Thank you for your advice or “Thank you for your opinion” would be some examples of this.
  • Apologize. Apologize for any part of anything you may have done wrong or apologize that the person took offense to something you have done. Some examples would be “I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry. I really messed up this time” or “I’m really sorry you took offense at what I said (or did).” If you did wrong admit it. If not, you can still apologize without saying you did anything wrong (as in the last example). This is a great one to use for someone who takes things personally.
  • Agree with the person. “You’re right….” Is an example. Some other examples are “I can see why you would say that” or “That makes sense.”
  • Acknowledge their thoughts and/or feelings. Everybody wants to be understood. This one shows the person that you are talking to that they are understood. It will require you to hear more than just their words. It requires you to listen and note their body language. Are they flailing their arms around in disgust? You might say something like, “I can see that you are really frustrated” or “I can see that you are very upset about this.” Another one might be “I can see that this makes you sad.”
  • Ask them a question. Say something like, “Do you mind if I ask you a question.” Almost always they will say “yes.” Then, they have given you permission to ask/say what you need to ask or say. It’s harder for them to be offended if they have already given you permission to say something. You can often be blunt and get away with it when you first ask permission with a question. Be nice though. :) This is often a good way to help someone see the “light” or see things from a different perspective.

3. Once you use a disarming statement, you then can state your needs – whatever they may be. A full assertive example might be. “Thank you for inviting me. I won’t be able to come this time.” If they ask you why you can not come you could say, “I really appreciate the invitation, but I’m very busy tonight – maybe another time.” You have complimented them, stated your needs and not backed down to them.

4. Recognize that just because you state your needs that does not always mean you will always get your needs met. However, if you use a disarming statement you have a much greater chance of getting what you want. Even if you don’t get what you want it still feels good to be able to say what you need without offending anyone.

5. Practice. Practice makes perfect.

Recognize that it may be scary at first and that it probably won’t be perfect. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Simply resolve to learn from each attempt how to do it better next time.

Becoming assertive may be one of the hardest things you have ever done (it was for me), but learning it and mastering it is one of the most rewarding.

Even though I’m still working on mastering it, I now find it fun to come up with an effective assertive statement.

6. Celebrate each success. Give yourself a pat on the back for each time you are assertive. Each attempt will boost your confidence.

One of best things about assertiveness is that when you master it, you are often able to be assertive in such a way that you leave people speechless with their jaws dropped. There is nothing left for them to say. It feels so good to do this!

Jennifer loves helping people achieve peace, happiness and success in their lives and writes regularly in her blog www.principlesforpeace.com. If you found this article helpful consider subscribing to Jennifer’s blog via your reader or if you prefer email subscription you may fill in the form at her site. One of Jennifer’s best posts is Steps Needed to Win through Adversity.

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  • David B. Bohl @ SlowDownFAST.com May 6, 2008, 1:04 am

    Jennifer,

    Great post! It’s a great reminder that I’m responsible for my own actions, not the actions of others. Being assertive is actually a way of turning things over – not having to feel like we’re in charge of everyone and everything – by defining our boundaries and doing what we most deeply value.

    David

  • Pentad May 6, 2008, 3:42 am

    Great post. Informative. You stated something extremely important at the very beginning, and that is that if people could stop connotating negative meaning to the word, ‘assertive’, they would make learning and practicing it easier for themselves. Thanks for the read!

  • Tabs May 6, 2008, 6:12 am

    Thanks for the post, the step by step approach, really helps visualize what one needs to accomplish this goal. I like the disarming statements. I have to think about this a little more and see how I can apply this to everyday life.

    Thanks again,

    Tabs

  • Jennifer May 6, 2008, 6:35 am

    Well said David! It is about putting the ball in the other persons’ court if need be.

  • Derick May 6, 2008, 7:47 am

    Hello Jennifer,

    I have seen this post at the right time. We had a personality development program, a couple of weeks back. One point everyone noted was about the importance of assertiveness, how it can improve your personal and professional life. I have noticed that many companies are giving training for their employees on Assertiveness, especially in the managerial level.

    Thank you for the great article!

    Derick.

  • Lori@betweenusgirls May 6, 2008, 3:28 pm

    Hey Jennifer,

    Very nice post. Your first point about respecting yourself and everyone else involved is so important to remember. People who fail to do so really run the risk of crossing the line between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Many people confuse assertion and aggression so it’s wonderful that you made the difference clear.

    The only thing I would caution people to be wary of is apologizing as a way of disarming people. If you really have done something wrong or offended someone then of course you should apologize…but to do so otherwise can defeat your own purposes. A person should never have to apologize for being assertive or for asking for what they want or need. It can sometimes make you appear weak to do so. Be careful with this one.

    All in all, I think you wrote a wonderfully informative and useful post. Great job!

  • Bobby Saini May 6, 2008, 4:21 pm

    this stuff really works, its just a matter of mastering the process and training yourself to make sure you do it each time. Immediately you will notice a change in your communication with others.

  • Jennifer May 6, 2008, 6:20 pm

    Yes Pentad, the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness is huge! One incorporates respect and the other doesn’t.

    Your welcome Tabs. good luck applying this. It works every time when used correctly.

    Your welcome David. Yes, I think all companies should train all their employees on the importance of assertiveness and how to do it. Hope you can use this in your work. I have expererienced it improving all areas of my life.

    Yes, Lori you are correct. A person should only apologize if they have done something wrong. Yes, and someone should NEVER apologize for being assertive. That will show weakness and stating needs is not something to be sorry for. The other person will pick up on that. For someone who is already very timid and weak, I would probably suggest not even to use this one until they have gained a lot of confidence.

    Well said Bobby! Yes, it is necessary to be consistent with assertiveness. Otherwise people will second guess you and you will second guess yourself. Yes, the results are immediate! It’s fabulous how it works!

  • Hana May 6, 2008, 10:36 pm

    Hiya Jennifer

    I happened upon your post this evening via Jonathan Fields post posing questions to top blogger’s on increasing traffic!

    What a really timely post!I had one of those days today were my social interactions were a little fraught. Great information to use another day when having the same people scenarios!

    It seems it doesn’t matter how old one is, its always good to have reminders and fresh ways to interact with others. Otherwise old behaviours can start to come into effect without realising.

    Its also a good technique with headstrong children !

    I will look up your blog now too

  • To me, being assertive is not being afraid to state your position and hold your ground. Instead of having things done to you, you are being proactive.

    MrAchievement
    Stanley Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author, Blogger & Professional Motivational Speaker

  • Jennifer May 7, 2008, 12:44 am

    Hiya to you Hana. It’s interesting this post has been so timely to so many. Glad it was to you. Really it’s something we can use every day of our lives. Sorry you had a rough day. Next time you will be ready to handle it, huh? It does take practice, but results are immediate. Good luck. Feel free to contact me with any questions or success stories.

    Hi. Stanley. Thanks for your comment. I’ve been on your website via http://www.Selfgrowth.com. I really like your free downloads. I guess as a lawyer you have to not be afraid to state your position! yes, it is about being proactive.

  • Shilpan | successsoul.com May 7, 2008, 12:45 am

    Jennifer,

    Great article. Assertiveness is essential in keeping our thoughts humble and to learn the skill of listening. Often under stress, we become more aggressive than assertive as I’ve stated in my post –

    http://www.thechangeblog.com/2008/04/30/5-signs-of-a-stress-ridden-mind/

    You’ve succinctly yet effectively articulated “how-to” part of assertiveness. Great job.

    Shilpan

  • Jennifer May 7, 2008, 7:13 pm

    Yes, Shilpan, stress does crazy things to us and it is easy to be aggressive when under stress. Your post says it well.

    And yes, assertiveness does require us to be good listeners. I was just thinking about how crucial listening is in being assertive just this morning. When we master both skills we will have come a long way!!!

  • Barbara Swafford May 9, 2008, 3:31 am

    Hi Jennifer,

    This reinforces to me how learning to say “no” becomes so important. In this day and age when we all are so busy, without asserting ourselves, we could literally be doormats.

    Thanks for sharing such great tips.

    BTW: Your book store/coffee shop is awesome. Great job!

  • Jennifer May 9, 2008, 10:31 pm

    Thanks Barbara. Yes, it’s easy to get swamped with more and more things. Knowing how to say “No” is a must.

    And thanks for the compliment on the place!

  • christine May 21, 2008, 9:43 pm

    hello Henrik

    a friend of mind gave the adress of your blog …what a chance…I feel really having found U and your writing ! it’s in my favorite page right now…as I my spirit was down for the last two days(divorce,unemplyement,etc…) It’s a great honnor ,and boosting me to read U.
    thanks. I knwow most of what you’re saying for having read and practise a positive communication “training” programm last year , but it’s good to read it over and over again, and try to practise daily.
    THANK YOU

  • Inspiration for Change May 24, 2008, 7:03 pm

    A fantastic and informative post.

    http://www.inspirationforchange.com

  • meoff jack July 25, 2010, 7:25 am

    Last tip on # 2, ask them question- do you mind if I ask u a question.. almost everytime they will respond yes? Well then?~