There are many benefits to being assertive—from helping you to achieve your goals, improving your self-esteem, and helping you to manage and keep stress at bay. The trouble is, even if we recognize the benefits of assertiveness, actually implementing it is a whole other ball game.
Fear, lack of confidence, and doubt can all get in the way of our speaking our mind confidently, and these factors can make the passive road seem more attractive and far less scary. It’s easy to get stuck in old habits instead of accessing the benefits of assertiveness that we need (and deserve!). In my practice as a psychotherapist, I help patients with this all the time. In order to break out of those old habits, it’s helpful to take the “don’t bite off more than you can chew” approach and start with some simple, small changes. As you grow more confident, you can practice more complex strategies, but it’s wise to start small.
Here are some easy-to-implement, yet tried-and-true strategies for making it a little easier to be assertive wherever you work, whether it be as an entrepreneur, as a stay-at-home mom, or in a traditional corporate setting.
Shift your mindset
Unfortunately, many of us have grown up hearing that being assertive is incompatible with being feminine. This misconception can be a significant barrier holding you back from the benefits of being assertive at work.
If this has been your experience, it can be helpful to spend some time reflecting on how this belief influences your own actions and approach to communicating your needs to others and discussing tough topics. You can challenge this misconception by reminding yourself that being assertive is less about being aggressive or embracing masculine traits and more about respect.
The Mayo Clinic offers a very helpful explanation: “Because assertiveness is based on mutual respect, it’s an effective and diplomatic communication style. Being assertive shows that you respect yourself because you’re willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that you’re aware of the rights of others and are willing to work on resolving conflicts.” When you equate assertiveness with respect, it’s transformed from a negative quality into something incredibly positive.
Identify your fear
If you find yourself struggling to be assertive with others at work (and most of us do at some point or other), fear is often wrapped up in that struggle. Once you can identify what fear is holding you back from being assertive, you can try to work through that fear which, in turn, makes it easier to be assertive when the situation requires it.
Let’s say that you have an idea that you’d love to bring up at your next team meeting, but, in the past, any time you’ve tried to bring up your ideas, your loud and bossy coworker talks over you, and you give up. Try to identify what fear is behind you not asserting yourself in that situation. Are you afraid of being perceived as rude? Are you afraid of being called out for not being a team player? After identifying what your fear is, you can challenge that belief by asking yourself, “Is this fear grounded in fact, or am I jumping to the worst-case scenario without any evidence?” In most cases, that fear is often either entirely unfounded or the grounds for it are less significant than we make them out to be.
If being more assertive feels like a really big deal, try taking baby steps like the Harvard Business Review recommends. After all, it’s often the small changes that we make that have the greatest lasting power. For example, if you want to make sure your idea is heard at your next meeting regardless of how loud your bossy coworker is being, a small step toward being assertive might be to let your boss know in private beforehand that you have something you’d like to bring up at the beginning of the meeting. A small step like this seems less intimidating that asserting yourself in the heat of the moment with your bossy coworker. And because it is a less daunting step, you are more likely to actually implement it.
Make it fun
Turning any kind of project into a game makes it much more fun. So why not turn your goal of being more assertive into a game? For example, you could challenge yourself to be assertive in some way (large or small) once a week or once a day. Keep track of each time you are assertive and, when you reach a certain point in your progress, reward yourself. You could challenge yourself to be assertive at least three times a week and promise yourself, after a month of successfully meeting your goal, a pedicure or a new book. Whatever reward you choose, make sure it resonates with you and motivates you.
Identify specific opportunities
Take a page from the SMART goal strategy, and identify specific ways you want to practice assertiveness. Telling yourself to “be more assertive” doesn’t provide you with much direction. Instead make a list of conversations and other situations in which you want to be assertive, and write down several ways you might be assertive in that moment. Because you’ve prepared beforehand, you’ll be ready when the moment to be assertive arrives. This will then increase the likelihood that you will be successful. And this, in turn, will boost your confidence and motivation. It’s a win-win situation.