Learning to be more assertive when it matters most to you, is one of those kinds of behavior upgrades that requires you to have a really good incentive for wanting to do it.
It’s hard for most people and no one is born assertive. Reacting “non assertively” to people and situations is a response to fight or flight, and mimics it. You’ll either tend to be aggressive, or passive, sometimes passive aggressive depending on the context and your personal history. We all default to our un-productive ‘go to’ styles when we’ve been triggered.
The skill is being able to speak authentically and stand up for yourself, in tough situations for you, without becoming overwhelmed emotionally. It also means learning how to say what you want to say in a way that someone else can hear. It takes practice.
Why put yourself to all that trouble?
Like any behavior or habit you want to change, the likelihood of real, lasting change increases dramatically when the pain from maintaining the habit starts to outweigh the benefits of continuing to do what’s comfortable.
My clients range from senior leaders, to entrepreneurs, to emerging leaders across culture and industry. These are some common pain points:
- You’re proud of being more frank and direct than most, but you’re also often in conflict with people, and your growth is stagnating because of it. Leaders are evaluated on their behavioral/people skills. You may be getting what you want, but you have a trail of broken relationships behind you. People are starting to notice.
- You can’t let go of situations because they churn around in your mind in endless loops, wasting precious mental energy. Your work life balance is out of whack from internal pressure. You can’t seem to turn it off.
- You say yes when you could say no, and you’re in a permanent state of overwhelm as a result. You’re down in the weeds, rather than spending time on strategic thinking and your priorities. On top of it, you’ve trained those around you to expect that level of work or commitment from you, and they demand more, and more, and….more.·
- You’re not getting what you want, because… you’re uncomfortable asking for what you want. Situations remain in a frustrating stalemate.
Hopefully if you’re reading this, you’ve hit the wall, realize you’ve had enough of whatever it is. You’re ready to try something new, because the old way is just bringing more of the same old results.
I’ve been coaching and training my clients in assertive communication, helping them take the reigns and act in their best interests, for decades. Though it takes some trial and error, the wins are felt immediately.
Here’s what you can do :
- Understand the definition of assertiveness as being able to : Hear, and clearly articulate your thoughts, feelings, opinions while respecting the person you’re speaking to, and getting your message to land in a way they can hear. Understanding too that you don’t control the outcome or of course, other people, but you can influence outcomes by speaking up and feel good about yourself for doing it.
- Recognize specific people and situations that trigger you.
- Always think through what you want from a conversation before going into it.
- Prepare and practice for the conversation. Don’t try to “wing it”.
- Learn the specific skills so you can bottom line articulately what you want to say. I’ll be writing more about these skills, with examples, and in the meantime here’s a fairly comprehensive list: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/Assertiveness.htm
- Learn to be comfortable with discomfort as you stretch yourself. It’s ok if you feel guilty or afraid of consequences. Do it anyway. Those are the growing pains.
- Be ok with consequences if they arise. As your old patterns fall to the floor, newer more productive ones will bring in different people and different situations, more respect for you, and ultimately much better outcomes for you.
- Stay vigilant and check in with yourself. Are you shying away from something important to your growth? Is a situation with someone repeating itself again and again, but you haven’t really identified or addressed the core issue? Is the battle you’re thinking of engaging in worth it?