We all have a comfort zone. And when you step out of that zone – whether at work or in a social situation – our usual assertiveness just disappears.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. When faced with a tough challenge, or an awkward person, it’s natural to lose confidence. That’s when your assertiveness deserts you.
Afterwards you think: “Why didn’t I just say...” – but you were just too nervous or flustered to think of it at the time! More importantly, you didn’t have the right assertiveness techniques to fall back on.
Even top business people have these problems. I know, because I’ve worked with one.
Saira – not her real name – is an account manager at a large marketing agency, who manages projects for big international clients. She’s lovely and usually great to deal with – but she also has a real assertiveness issue, which can cause big problems for everyone else.
As you can imagine, Saira’s clients can be very demanding. They want things done yesterday, they change their minds often, and they don’t always stick to the schedule they agreed at the start of a project.
That puts the onus on the account manager – Saira – to be assertive when the client asks for things that just aren’t feasible.
Well – what do you think happens when Saira isn’t assertive enough? The client runs riot, Saira’s team have far too much to do, and Saira herself ends up completely frazzled!
And it could all be so much different if Saira just had the right techniques to be assertive.
So, I’m writing this post for Saira, and every one of you who feel like your assertiveness deserts you in tricky situations.
Here are five everyday situations where you absolutely must be assertive to succeed – and how to be assertive when faced with them.
Deep breath, strong posture and... let’s go!
1. When you’re dealing with a confrontational personA ‘confrontational person’ can be anyone who is determined to get their own way, without listening to your point of view.
It could be your boss, your partner, a client, a colleague, or even your best friend!
When someone acts like this, the biggest mistake you can make is to accept they are more powerful than you are. Don’t!
Remind yourself immediately:
- This person is not more powerful than me
- They are using confrontational behaviour to grab power
- They are actually being quite unhelpful and immature
In other words, remember that you are the equal of this confrontational person. Your confidence will quickly return, and you’ll be ready to assert yourself.
2. When you need to persuade someoneNow you’re on an equal footing. What if you need to convince someone of your point of view?
For example, you want the go-ahead to start a new project you designed? Or you think the family holiday should be in Trinidad instead of Torquay?
It can be daunting to ask for what YOU want. If you’re a people-pleasing kind of person, you might be more used to putting other people’s needs before your own. Remember: your wants and opinions are as valid as anybody else’s.
Just as importantly, you need to be ready to make a strong case. The other decision-maker will probably have their own valid opinions, and you need to counter them.
- Weighing up the pros and cons of what you’re asking for, so you can make a good argument and answer objections
- Find a way to meet your needs in ways that don’t negatively impact other people, and argue for that
- Identify your must-haves and things you can live without, and be prepared to sacrifice the less-important things when bargaining
Now you’re ready to ask for what you want, and to persuade others that it’s the right thing to do.
3. When you’re being pressured into something you shouldn’t have to doThis happens just as often at home as at work.
It’s nice when people depend on us – but sometimes they depend on us a bit too much, and we end up feeling pressured and taken for granted.
The person pressuring you is usually someone you care about. It could be a family member, or a colleague, or your boss in a job you can’t afford to lose.
This makes the situation especially difficult. But you can still be assertive:
- Find a compromise. For example, if you’re asked to work late on a night when you have no babysitter, offer to work late another night instead.
- Take your time. Don’t be rushed into an answer. Give yourself time to compose yourself, prepare your response, and take control of the situation.
- Just say ‘no’. If you just can’t do what’s being asked of you, don’t be afraid to refuse. Remember, your needs are as important as anyone else’s.
If you really find it difficult to say no to people, practice with a friend or even in the mirror. It’s vital that you can say no to people if you’re going to be assertive!
4. When you’re unfairly blamed for something that wasn’t your faultWhy is that the least assertive person in a group is usually made the scapegoat when something goes wrong?
The answer is simple. The true guilty party doesn’t want to be blamed. And they know the least assertive person won’t defend themselves if accused. It’s an unfair bullying tactic, which can leave you feeling hurt and powerless.
You absolutely must assert yourself in this situation.
Let go of the guilt that even a false accusation can make you feel. And realise that you don’t deserve blame.
You don’t have to have an in-the-moment confrontation. Wait until the dust has settled, then present the facts to your accuser (or a work superior). Show them you aren’t willing to take the fall, and you’ll gain new respect – which will make bullies think twice about targeting you again.
If nothing come sof it after approaching them, andthey try it again at a later meeting, you will need to now address that person in front of the others. Like before, breathe, and do it while calm.
5. When you want more control in a work or personal relationshipOur last situation is perhaps the most common of all.
If you haven’t been very assertive in life so far, you probably find yourself here often – wishing you were more respected and listened to in your work and social relationships.
The problem is that history is now aganist you, and you are swimming against the tide, so it may seem harder than some of the others, but you just have to fight through, and make it regular behaviour, not a once off.
All the techniques we’ve worked on so far will help you, so let’s recap:
- Always remember that nobody is more powerful or important than you
- Be willing to ask for things you want, because you deserve it!
- Prepare your arguments in advance, so you can make a strong case when persuading others of your point of view
- Be ready to compromise on things that aren’t so important to you, in order to gain bargaining power to get what you really want
- Be willing to say no – practice if you need to!
- Take your time when responding to requests. It helps you regain composure and control.
- Let go of guilt – it’s only holding you back!
And here’s a final, bonus technique for being more assertive in relationships: be a broken record.
Being a broken record is an easy way to be more assertive because it doesn’t require quick wits or a loud voice. You simply need to keep repeating your position until the other person understands how serious and firm you are on it.
If your partner keeps bugging you to do something unacceptable, like buying an expensive new car, just keep repeating: “I’m sorry, we can’t afford that.”
If your boss keeps asking you to work an unscheduled shift at short notice, just keep repeating: “I’m sorry, I’d like to help but I can’t.”
They’ll eventually accept. And you’ll discover how good it feels to finally assert yourself. Good luck!
P.S. In case you're not sure about how assertive you are, we have a free, personalised test that you can take and finish in about 5 minutes, which can be found here.