Assertiveness is about the choices you make

I’ve always loved this quote about assertiveness and I think it’s because it reveals so much about the level of respect we hold, not only for others, but for ourselves as well.

Our attitudes and behaviours hold the key to our successes and although I’ve always recognised that being assertive creates the best results, I’ve tended to hold a very text book definition of what it means ie to stand up for your own rights without violating the rights of others.  However, over the last while, I’ve realised that it’s so much more.  Through the conversations that I’ve been having with a variety of colleagues, clients, friends and family, assertiveness is all about having the courage to speak up about things that are affecting us, whilst being considerate of those around us.  You have probably heard of the ‘win/win’ scenario, but I think it’s much more than that.  Assertiveness is about the choices we make when we create our boundaries.  For example knowing when you will walk away from situations or when you will let the other person ‘win’ because you know that digging your heels in over something that is relatively minor will do more harm to the relationship than the good it brings through satisfying your own ego and proving yourself to be right.

So why I am writing about this today?  Because I’m seeing that a lack of assertiveness is hindering us.  When we’re not clear with others about what is okay for us and what isn’t okay we hamper the results we achieve, knock our self-esteem and confidence.  Often it’s the beliefs we hold that influence the way we behave.  I know that this is real and relevant for me.  Imagine being in a room full of people and not believing you can influence a decision as all the other people are much more intelligent than you.  You’ll probably remain quieter in the meeting.  This means that you don’t put yourself out there with your thoughts and so therefore don’t influence any of the decisions.  The longer term impact is that it reinforces your earlier belief that you’re no good at influencing others and so the cycle continues!  As Jim Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) said, ‘The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it’, so start challenging some of your beliefs and even if that means you write a script, or run through all the types of questions, objections people may come up with, play a more active part in the next meeting you attend.

Another way our lack of assertiveness hinders us is in the way we plan, organise and manage our time.  If we continually put our own needs at the bottom of the pile rather than at the top, we find ourselves saying ‘yes’ to others more and ‘no’ to ourselves.  Other people’s work gets the priority whilst ours becomes something we need to find time to do by either working late or taking it home.  Or perhaps not doing it at all!  Of course, this again can be a belief that we hold about pleasing others.  If we don’t say ‘yes’ to doing this task / project / ‘exciting’ piece of work, will we be seen as less capable, not committed to the role etc.  However, next time you find yourself at the end of a request that you know will put you behind in other activities, ask yourself this question:

‘By saying yes to this request, what am I saying no to?’

and then look at it another way,

‘By saying no to this request, what will I be able to say yes to? ‘

It may help you to focus your decision making.  At the end of the day, it could also help the requestor manage their own priorities in a better way too!  Although it may seem harsh, it’s always good to remember that ‘no!’ is a full sentence 😉

So here’s a few tips to be more assertive

  • Be the mirror of what you want to see coming back.  By this I mean show others that you do have respect for yourself and you want others to be the same for themselves and others.  By behaving in this way, it creates a much more transparent and open dialog with everyone around you.  And the more you respect yourself, you’ll find others will too.
  • Set some boundaries.  Make sure you know how far you’re willing to go in different situations.  Our inner voice will often let us know whether something feels right or not, but try to bring those gut instincts to a conscious reality so that you can gain clarity about your limits as this will enable you to stick to them.  Facts and information are always useful.  Remember as this is a new you, you may find that you have to repeat your response a few times as people won’t expect the push back, but stick in there as you’ll start to feel better about the results you achieve.  As our Brene Brown tells us, what might make you feel vulnerable on the inside looks like courage on the outside!  Our challenge is to choose that courage over comfort.
  • Thing about the language you use.  Both our words and body language can often let us down so make sure they’re congruent.  Creating this habit comes from making sure we say what we mean and we mean what we say as this enables us to be authentic in the way we come over.  If this is something you find difficult, think about someone you admire as being assertive and determine what it is about the way they act and behave that you could emulate.  By just taking ownership for what you are doing and saying and use the ‘I’ word.
  •  Stop apologising and/or justifying.  We often apologise because we feel that we are disappointing others or letting them down, but the key to being more assertive is that we have consideration for ourselves too.  So the next time you hear yourself going into overdrive apologising or justifying why you can’t do something, go back to that earlier question about what you will be giving up by saying yes to this request and it will get you back on track!  You could also reflect on the way you act and behave around the people to whom you can say no without feeling guilty and then replicate some of those behaviours.

I hope there is at least one little gem that you can use in what I’ve written to help you get better results.  Implement it today!  We build great habits and stronger muscles if we start with good foundations, but it’s the action that we take, not the intention, that helps us get there.

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