10 Tips to Become More Assertive – From a Psychologist

What Actually is ‘Assertiveness’?

Assertiveness sits in the middle of being passive or aggressive. When correctly demonstrated, it is an invaluable tool that can be used in every area of your life. However, a majority of people struggle to achieve and maintain this balance of standing up for themselves and their values, without intimidating or offending people.

Assertiveness is defined as “Communicating feelings, beliefs and thoughts openly, and defending personal rights and values in a socially acceptable, non-offensive, and non-destructive manner” (MHS Inc, 2011)

Truly assertive people can express their feelings, thoughts, emotions and wishes, while still respecting the needs and opinions of other people. They welcome a collaborative approach but are able to share their honest feelings comfortably.

Take a minute to reflect on yourself – where do you sit on the scale of passive to aggressive? Maybe you place a high value on interpersonal relationships and sometimes let yourself be overruled for the sake of maintaining these. Or, maybe you are extremely confident in your own abilities and get easily frustrated when people don’t see things the same way. 

Feeling a bit uncertain? Here are some tips to boost your confidence and assertiveness.

Are you Passive?

Fundamentally, passivity is when you feel that your thoughts or feelings are less important than those around you.

Some common physical traits that you will see in a passive person are:

  • Looking away or down with no eye contact
  • A sad or ‘victim’ face, sometimes an awkward smile
  • Closed body posture (e.g. shoulders hunched, head down, wringing hands, small steps)
  • Apologetic/meek tone, timid, scared to speak up

Tips to become more assertive (for a passive person)

Becoming assertive from a passive attitude requires placing more value on your own needs, opinions and feelings. Some strategies to help are:

  1. Change your language to be more powerful – e.g. I ‘want’ to go on this training course for my development
  2. Give honest and constructive feedback – people will value your input
  3. Set clear boundaries for yourself and learn to say no – know your limits and stick to them.
  4. Work on developing your confidence and self-esteem – do your research for topics so that you can back yourself with conviction
  5. Be honest and direct about your feelings, needs and opinions

Are you Aggressive?

An aggressive perspective is when you feel that your opinion/thoughts and feelings are superior to those around you.

Some common physical traits that you will see in an aggressive person are:

  • Staring, glaring, looking down at the recipient
  • Frowning, sneering, snarling or snapping teeth
  • Advancing, invading personal space, waving fists, pointing, jabbing fingers
  • Domineering voice, yelling, loud, impatient

Tips to become more assertive (for an aggressive person)

Becoming assertive from an aggressive attitude requires placing value on other people’s needs, opinions and feelings. Some strategies to help are:

  1. Change your language to be less direct – e.g. Instead of ‘You never do this’, change to ‘I feel that you could do this differently’
  2. Be open to feedback – Try to be responsive and accepting of feedback that people give you, and implement strategies to change
  3. Empathise – When people aren’t performing, try to understand why rather than just pointing the finger
  4. Try to compromise – Rather than confronting and blaming, work to find a middle ground where both parties are happy
  5. Accept responsibility for mistakes. View them as an opportunity to learn rather than being defensive and attacking.

Becoming assertive rather than leaning too far either way is a highly effective way to improve performance in both your personal life and professional. Consciously assessing your behaviour and people’s responses leads to heightened emotional intelligence and develops interactive skills. This also ensures you are communicating effectively, and the right information is received by the people you associate with.

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