When you think of the word assertive, what comes to mind? Being in-charge? Telling it like it is? Getting up in someone’s business? Some of that may be true, but none of these are healthy examples of how to be assertive.
The word assertive gets a bad rap. Sometimes, I’m guilty of using it to avoid speaking the truth outright about someone’s behavior – you can probably relate. Have you ever heard somebody say something like this, “I have a friend who is…an assertive person. You know, they have a big personality.” We all know that’s just a tactful way of saying somebody is bossy! It’s a cowardly way around the truth and it contributes to the term assertiveness having a bad reputation.
Assertiveness is not a bad trait despite how it may get used from time to time. Being assertive simply means that you don’t allow things to remain unaddressed. Assertiveness can look like the following:
- If you hurt someone’s feelings, or get hurt, you will take action to repair the situation.
- When you see someone being a bully, you will be direct about the situation and help resolve the conflict.
- If somebody is being disruptive at work, you will speak up and call out the disruptive behavior so others can focus.
All of these conversations are hard and uncomfortable. That’s why they’re called hard conversations!
Hard conversations are awkward and they take preparation. Even if you go into them with everything prepared, the conversation may unravel and go very wrong on you. That’s OK, part of being assertive is having enough courage to start the conversation regardless of the possible outcomes.
A failed attempt is better than no attempt. It feels bad to fail, but it is much worse to have never tried to succeed.
What Does It Look Like to be Assertive?
- Positive and constructive
- A way of relating to others (how you communicate)
- It respects their needs, wants, and rights
- It respects your own needs, wants, and rights
Assertiveness IS NOT:
- Demanding someone change their behavior or opinion
- Belittling someone for past mistakes
- Threatening to withdraw support
- Being a door-mat
- Not expressing your thoughts or feelings
- Not standing up for what is right
- Being stubborn
- Sabotaging other people’s work
There is no technique you can “turn on” to be assertive. There’s no life hack. Being assertive takes practice and is something you just have to practice. When you do hard things you get stronger, and strength makes the hard things easier to do.
Think about it like going to the gym. How can you bench press 200lbs? You first start off with 50lbs and increase the weight over a period of time. Eventually, you can lift 200 lbs. Make the decision to start being assertive today and build that mental muscle.
Expect yourself to fail, acknowledge the failures, and continue moving forward.