17 Ways to Assert Yourself More in 2020, According to Experts
Being prepared, confident, and firm are the keys to making this year a successful one.
Whether you’re standing up for yourself at work or making your needs known in a relationship, being assertive is an essential skill that we could all use a bit more of in our daily lives. But the reality is that when it comes time to actually step up to the plate and put the skill into practice, it’s far easier said than done. That's why we talked to therapists and other experts about what you can do to become more assertive and make this year your most successful one yet.
Know your goals before you start speaking.
Whether you’re vying for a promotion or haggling over the price of a new car, knowing what you want before you start speaking is a great way to expedite the process of achieving those goals.
“Think about what you are asking for or saying no to, how you want the other person to feel after the conversation, and how you want to feel after the conversation,” suggests licensed clinical psychologist Rebecca B. Skolnick, PhD, co-founder of MindWell Psychology NYC. “This will help you figure out your priorities in the interaction.”
Believe that you deserve what you ask for.
It may not be possible to give yourself an immediate confidence boost, but psyching yourself up about how much you deserve the thing you’re trying to achieve can be a major benefit when it comes to asserting yourself.
“When you create a relationship with yourself based on trust and a belief in your own worthiness, you're much more likely to take risks, like speaking up and being assertive,” says women’s empowerment coach Alyssa Tennant. “When you believe in yourself, you know that you'll be OK no matter how you're received by others.”
Practice having assertive conversations with friends.
Not getting enough of a pep talk from the voice inside your head? Try practicing those assertive speeches with folks you feel supported by; doing so can help you gain the confidence you need to tackle virtually any situation.
“If it's difficult for you to be assertive at work or in the larger world, practice being assertive in less threatening situations,” suggests Tennant, who recommends asking a friend to practice with you.
Even if you’re not as self-assured as you’d like to be, acting as though you are is a major step toward achieving any goal. One easy way to do this is by sticking to a pre-written script and limiting language that indicates hesitancy.
“Practice what you are going to say in advance, make eye contact during the conversation, and try not to say filler words like ‘um’ or ‘like,’” suggests Skolnick.
Use “I” statements.
While discussing your wants or needs, using “you” statements can come across as accusatory, even when you don’t intend to be. Instead, try using “I” statements—“I want this” or “I think”—as a way of being assertive without immediately shutting down communication.
“Using ‘I’ statements, say how this situation is affecting you,” says Santa Barbara-based psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MFT, author of I Love Myself: Affirmations for a Happy Life. "Be mindful of your tone of voice, your facial expressions, [and] your hand gestures because they all support your message."
Use “part of me” statements.
If coming right out with what you need feels too aggressive, there’s an easy workaround: the “part of me” statement.
For instance, “‘Part of me wishes I could do more for you and part of me knows I cannot take any more on,’” suggests Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic.
Krawiec also suggests saying “I’m torn between” when trying to explain how you feel if you have multiple options in front of you. “It helps to illustrate ambivalence and a fuller picture than just a one dimensional view of the issue or problem,” she explains.
Use body language to support your point.
While it may seem like a power play to adopt a strong physical stance during a conversation, using standoffish body language could send the wrong message. “Say what you mean with your words and your body language,” suggests Scott-Hudson. “Crossed arms and a scowl do not support a message requesting a repair. Your non-verbal communication matters.” Instead, try assuming a neutral posture and listening actively while the person you’re talking to is expressing their own side of things.
Ask for feedback.
Not every situation in which you channel your assertive nature will work out in your favor. However, you can still turn any situation into a learning experience by asking for feedback from the person you’re talking to.
“You'll either get validation that your ideas are spot-on, which will give you the confidence to communicate them more directly, or you'll get advice on how to make them stronger,” explains Tennant.
Ask clarifying questions.
If you’re shy about speaking up and asserting your own opinion, try starting the conversation with a few questions first. “Sometimes asserting your own opinion can be scary, but asking clarifying questions is a great way to practice using your voice and contributing to conversations,” says Tennant.
Communicate to understand, not to win.
Want to get what you need? Then it’s important that you don’t go into interactions with a battle mindset.
“Practicing assertive communication means you are advocating for yourself while also being mindful of other’s needs,” explains Texas-based therapist Kristen Suleman, LPC, a clinician at Ajana Therapy & Clinical Services. That means listening and appreciating the other person’s point of view, but still respectfully maintaining your position if you don’t agree with it.
Say “no” and don’t back down.
A big part of learning to more assertive in your interactions in both your personal and professional lives is mastering the seemingly simple, but often difficult practice of saying "no."
“‘No’ is a complete sentence,” says Suleman. “You do not need to justify, legitimize, or provide evidence to back-up your ‘no.’” Make it clear that you’re hearing their side of things and respect their decision, but are remaining firm in your decision to decline.
Remind yourself that you can only be responsible for your own behavior.
Not everyone is going to necessarily get on board with your newly assertive nature—some may even feel uncomfortable with it—and that’s OK. However, if you encounter some resistance, there’s a quick way to push through.
“Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings or behavior," says Suleman. "You are only responsible for your own."
Stick to your boundaries.
While it may feel easier to back down when confronted about the thing you’re asking for, if you’re committed to being more assertive, it’s important that you maintain those boundaries well past the initial conversation in which you asked for them.
“The harder part is keeping to your word by providing reminders if future uncomfortable interactions occur,” says Jacob Kountz, an associate marriage and family therapist at Kern Wellness Counseling. “Stick to your guns and eventually others will respect your boundaries.”
Apologize only when you want to or feel it is warranted.
Saying that you're sorry for practically any situation of conflict—regardless of being at fault or not—is par for the course for some people. However, if you want to be more assertive, it’s important to limit when and why you use the S-word in the first place.
“A sorry should not be warranted if there is nothing that you did to burden, deceive, or hurt the person you are speaking with,” Kountz says.
And use “thank you” in its place.
If you want to be more assertive, consider saying “thank you” when you would have otherwise apologized.
For example, therapist Stephanie Juliano, LPCC, suggests saying “thank you for waiting,” instead of “I’m sorry I’m late.”
Anticipate some anger.
Sometimes, sudden assertiveness can be met with extreme resistance—even anger—so it’s important to remind yourself that what you’re asking for is still worth it, no matter how upset the other party may get.
“If we’re too worried about people getting riled, we’ll never get our needs met,” says therapist Karen R. Koenig, LCSW. “Yes, they’ll get angry or upset with us, but so what? It’s not the end of the world.”
Use meditation, or a similar technique, to center yourself.
If you’re not used to expressing yourself in an assertive manner, doing so can feel overwhelming at first. That’s why Suleman suggests practicing a centering technique to help you keep your cool. She recommends "mindful breathing or pushing the palms of your hands together.”