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Becoming more confident and assertive in life can lead to greater benefits both personally and professionally

Communicating assertively isn’t easy for most of us, at least not all the time and in every situation. Assertiveness is the skill of effective communication and negotiation. Being assertive means being able to stand up for what you believe is right, ask for what you want, and say no to what you don’t want in a way that’s confident, calm, and respectful.

In many instances we communicate passively and just go with the flow because we’re afraid that people with think badly of us or judge us if we express what we really want. Or because we don’t want to deal with the drama and guilt-tripping that would go along with standing up for what we want.

We may communicate aggressively and put others down because it makes us feel powerful and confident and alleviates our deeper insecurities, or passive-aggressively because we want the satisfaction of expressing our anger or hurt without taking responsibility for or accepting the consequences of it.

Assertive people are firm without being rude or aggressive. They defend their points of view, ideas or projects; they are equally open to compliments and constructive criticism.

Becoming more assertive

Assertiveness is a skill that needs to be built and developed over time. Becoming more assertive takes sustained effort and commitment. So start small. Work on being more assertive in lower stakes situations. As you improve and it becomes more natural, slowly work up to assertiveness in bigger and higher stakes situations. Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • Make imperfect decisions. When you’re faced with a trivial joint decision with someone—like deciding which restaurant to go with a friend or partner in the evening—just pick the first thing that comes to mind and say that’s where you want to go. Don’t worry if you’re not totally sure if that’s where you really want to go or how the other person may or may not feel.
  • Whenever you’re being seated at a restaurant, ask for a different table.
  • Stop apologising when you haven’t actually done anything wrong.
  • Get comfortable saying no. Understand that you’re going to feel uncomfortable afterward and that the whole point is to build up your tolerance for that discomfort.
  • Stop trying to manage how other people feel. Instead of offering solutions to or doing things to try and make people feel better, try simply acknowledging that they’re having a hard time and leaving it at that.

Becoming more assertive may require that you change your body language to back up your assertive words physically.

  • Hold eye contact with people when you are talking them and avoid breaking eye contact too quickly. Counting to three before looking away is a good simple guide.
  • Hold your head high; keep your back straight and your shoulders pulled back. Avoid doing anything that makes you take up less space.
  • Watch for verbal ticks that can signal a lack of confidence. Commit to expressing your thoughts without apologies or caveats and also making sure that your thoughts are heard.

Benefits of learning to be more assertive

A few of the most common and compelling reasons to work on becoming more assertive are:

Decreased social anxiety and need for approval. As we become more skilled at expressing our own beliefs, wants, and needs in a direct and respectful way, we gain valuable evidence that we don’t need to worry as much about disapproval as we imagine.

Becoming less resentful of others. When we use unhelpful styles of communication, we tend to project our own disappointment with ourselves at not being honest onto other people in the form of frustration and resentment.

Improved relationships and partnerships. When it comes down to it, all communication problems are problems of assertiveness. When we learn how to communicate assertively—especially with spouses and romantic partners—just about every aspect of our relationships improve.

Increased self-confidence and self-respect. Every time we avoid expressing what’s genuinely important to us, we communicate to our own brain that our own wishes are not really that important. On the other hand, when we’re willing to honestly express how we feel and what we want, we’re reinforcing to our own brains that we are important and valuable. And ultimately, that’s the source of genuine self-confidence and self-respect.

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