12 Things an assertive person should be able to do. Are you assertive?
Assertiveness is a key skill in every area of life You may have all the plans, goals and objectives that you can possibly think of but if you do not have the resolve to communicate your needs and; stand up for your rights; your plans, goals and objectives are meaningless.
Many of my coaching clients approach me thinking that they have problems with goal setting, procrastination, personal organisation etc. With many of them, I have found that they could set great goals, they could organise themselves and they could get good work done. However, where they were lacking was in their interpersonal interactions. They were not assertive and they did not ensure that others respected their boundaries. As a result, they regularly ended up spending their days doing what others wanted them to do rather than what they needed to do. Now, when I consult with clients, I regularly jump straight into the following question:
Are you an assertive person?
If your answer to ‘Are you an assertive person?’ is ‘No’ then you are going to struggle in many areas of your life. If you want to advance yourself and live life on your terms; you need to be able to stand up for yourself while respecting others i.e. you need to be assertive.
Are you an assertive person? Infographic
An introduction to assertiveness
When I first started my working life, I had never heard of assertiveness. After a few months, my boss, Gary, called me aside and told me there was a training course he would like me to do. He told me that while I was a nice person, I could do with improving my ability to get my message across. We worked in Training and Health & Safety and in these areas, you often have to make difficult decisions which others do not want to accept. An assertive person will ensure that these decisions are adhered to, no matter how much adversity they face. A non-assertive person will back down and give in to the demands of others. Gary knew that I was not an assertive person and he wanted to rectify that.
Gary’s choice of course proved to be an inspired choice Not only did I become more assertive; I discovered a field which I have grown very passionate about. As I have become a more assertive person, I have found that every area of my life has improved e.g.:
As you may be able tell from the examples above, an assertive person is not just assertive in one area of their life. Assertiveness is a way of life. It is like a badge you wear into each interaction. In fact, once you make the effort to become a more assertive person and, you demonstrate that you will apply your assertiveness skills; you will find that you rarely need to be assertive. People come to understand that you cannot be manipulated and they don’t even try. At the same time, they know that you will respect them too so, your relationships naturally become more amicable.
12 Things an assertive person should be able to do
Are you assertive? Do you feel that you can stand up for yourself, your values and your beliefs while respecting others, their values and their beliefs An assertive person should be able to do each of the following 12 things; how many would you feel comfortable doing?
1. Assert yourself when you aren’t part of the majority
The world is full of opinions and the wonderful thing about opinions is that they are just opinions. During everyday discussion, we rarely use facts. You are perfectly entitled to offer your opinion, as is everyone else.
Respect should flow both ways i.e. you don’t have to agree with somebody’s opinion but you should have enough respect to allow them to express it. You should always feel comfortable enough to express your opinion. If others wish to disagree, they are of course entitled to do so. So be it.
Of course, feeling comfortable expressing your opinion doesn’t mean that you should always do so. Sometimes, it is best to keep quiet and let people figure things out for themselves. Quite often, arguments arise because of somebody expressing an opinion that wasn’t asked for. The recipient of said opinion didn’t want to hear it and they object in a hostile manner.
Other times, you are asked for your opinion but when you give your opinion, the person who asked for it doesn’t react well. They just wanted the validation of having you agree with them. Maybe they were experiencing doubt about their opinion and they hoped that you would agree with them, thus increasing their confidence. Alternatively, they may have known that their opinion is controversial and hoped that you agreeing with them would make them feel better about their opinion.
An assertive person, while having full confidence in their opinion will know that there are times when there is nothing to be gained from expressing that opinion. So, they will refrain from doing so. In fact, an assertive person will usually consider the following before expressing their opinion:
If you struggle to express your opinion in a respectful manner, check out How to Talk So Others Will Listen.
2. Be comfortable meeting new people
With roughly 7 billion people on the planet and, new opportunities existing around every corner, it is very difficult to go through life without meeting new people. Life would be pretty bland and boring if you didn’t increase your social circle.
You don’t have to work miracles every time you meet a new person but an assertive person can introduce themselves and hold a brief conversation.
When you meet somebody new, it provides many opportunities. Ranging from the opportunity to pass a few enjoyable moments; to the opportunity to invite somebody special into your life where they will play a significant role. The truth is, you don’t know how much of a difference somebody could make to your life until you introduce yourself and begin to have a conversation. An assertive person realises that every encounter is a chance to share a wonderful experience so, they don’t hesitate to introduce themselves.
Every encounter is also an opportunity to learn something new, about yourself, about the other person or about life in general. I recently watched a documentary about prisons which included one prisoner who has worked hard to rehabilitate himself whilst in prison. On his cell wall, he had some words which really describe an assertive person’s attitude to meeting new people. They read:
‘No man is you enemy. No man is your friend. Every man is your teacher’
Regardless of how long someone will be in your life or, the role they will play in your life; all people have value and lessons to offer you.
3. Speak confidently in group situations
You probably find yourself in groups on a regular basis. It can seem daunting to have to speak up in a group but there is something very important you should remember about groups. Groups usually form around people with common interests, goals and objectives. Like you, others are usually there for a reason. These other people want you to feel comfortable and, if you think you may have something of value to add, they want to hear it.
You don’t have to hog the conversation and you don’t have to be one of the most frequent speakers but an assertive person will feel capable of being themselves in a group and, they will freely speak when they have something to say.
Of course, an assertive person won’t just concern themselves with making sure that they are heard. Assertiveness is as much about treating others with respect and dignity as it is about ensuring that you are treated with respect and dignity. So along with adding any value you have to offer; you will listen actively to others and where you feel that somebody has something of value to offer but is reluctant to say it; you will invite them to speak and ensure that they are heard.
In fact, the quickest way to ensure that you are respected is by offering that level of respect to others. Don’t just tell others how you wish to be treated. Demonstrate it by treating them with the desired level of respect. After all, its easier to interpret clear actions than muddled words.
When speaking in group situations, compassion is a wonderful skill ot have. Read 8 Tips to master compassionate communication.
4. Remain comfortable in social situations
Like above, being comfortable in social situations does not mean that you must be the centre of attention. You should feel comfortable enough to be yourself and speak when you would like to.
In fact, in many social situations, the sign of someone who is comfortable is not speaking up and being heard by everybody. The person who is most comfortable in a social situation is the person who is actively listening. I don’t mean just nodding your head. An assertive person listens attentively; staying silent where necessary and asking appropriate questions where necessary.
As someone who suffered with anxiety and depression in my younger years; I know that the time I am least comfortable in a social situation is when I am speaking a lot. If I am constantly speaking, I am not listening. Not only am I am not respecting the other members of the group; I am not able to add anything relevant because I haven’t heard anything that anyone else has said. As I have become more of an assertive person, I have started to slow down, shut up and listen. Though I will be the first to admit that I still have room to improve.
Attentive, active listeners are more assertive than those who strive to be the centre of attention.
5. Say ‘No’ without feeling guilty
It is one of the shortest words in the English language but it is the hardest word to say; ‘No’. Most people can easily go through the day without ever saying it. You don’t have to say it for the sake of saying it but if you don’t want to agree to something; you should have enough assertiveness to say ‘No’.
One of the biggest differences between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people say ‘No’ to many more things. You cannot be successful in life unless you take charge of your time, energy and resources but when you agree to something against your will, you are allowing somebody else to control you. An assertive person always takes control of their own life.
When saying ‘No’, it is important to remember that you are not trying to control everybody or everything. What you are doing is taking responsibility for yourself. An assertive person understands that they cannot do everything that they would like to do. By saying ‘No’ to the things which are not truly right for you; you open space for the things that are right for you.
Too often, I hear people complain about having to pass up opportunities but on many occasions, the reason they had to pass up the opportunity is because they filled up their schedule with things that don’t add real value to their life.
Learn to say 'No' to the unimportant so you can say 'Yes' to the important. Read The power of no - Why you should decline.
6. Feel comfortable expressing strong feelings
Many people feel comfortable expressing simple opinions but when it comes to expressing their feelings, they struggle. Especially when their feelings are strong. They worry about upsetting others. Instead, they just try to bottle those feelings up and get on with things.
Feeling are like problems and, as David Allen says about problems:
‘You can deal with them when they show up or when they blow up.’
Either way, you are going to have to deal with them eventually. However, if you have bottled up the feelings or avoided the problem, they don’t just stay the same size e.g. if somebody is taking advantage of you and you allow this to continue; every time they take advantage of you, the intensity of your negative feelings will grow. Then, when your are finally forced to deal with them, you will be dealing with a far bigger problem.
An assertive person does not let the intensity of his feelings grow. He doesn’t let the size of his problems grow. He deals with these situations when they show up so that they never blow up.
Again, it is important that I stress that not every opinion, strong or otherwise, must be expressed. An assertive person will always consider the benefit of expressing their opinion. If it is important that your opinion is expressed, you shouldn’t back out of doing so for the purpose of avoiding conflict. Occasionally, a little conflict can be both healthy and necessary.
However, if there is nothing to be gained from expressing your opinion, and the potential for conflict is high; it might be better to leave the other person hold onto whatever opinion they have.
As my good friend Jamie likes to say:
‘People have the right to be wrong. You don’t always have to point it out to them.’
Remember, before you express your opinion, it can be beneficial to answer the following questions:
People have the right to be wrong. You don’t always have to point it out to them.
7. Take responsibility for your own mistakes
You don’t need to be afraid of owning your mistakes. If you make a mistake; take responsibility for it.
When I talk about assertiveness, which I do on a regular basis, I usually talk about the need to stand up and speak up when others have said, or done, something wrong. If it is important, you should feel free and comfortable to say so; preferably in a respectful manner. When we hold others to a higher standard, it helps everyone to raise their game.
Of course, an assertive person will not just stop at holding others to higher standards. You must apply the same standards to yourself. Many people are afraid to own up to mistakes and admit to weaknesses. They fear that it makes them look bad in the eyes of others and they will lose respect. But few things win the respect of others as quick as an honest admission of a mistake.
You don’t have to berate yourself or treat yourself like you deliberately screwed up. But take responsibility for your actions, identify what you did wrong, determine what you can do better and put it into action.
Learning to accept responsibility will greatly improve your relationships. Read How being responsible can change your life
8. Find it easy to ask for help
Nobody knows everything. We all struggle from time to time. Those who struggle least probably encounter the same number of struggles as everybody else. The difference is they are quicker to ask for help.
I am sure you have heard the old saying ‘Pride comes before the fall.’ Some people are too proud to seek help. They are embarrassed to admit that they don’t have all the answers. Because of this, even the smallest struggles can wreak havoc on their lives.
I once bought some training off a company who had the most wonderful policy on asking for help. They wanted their clients (entrepreneurs) to develop entrepreneurial resilience i.e. the ability to solve their own problems. This often provides the best learning opportunities in business. However, they didn’t want their clients to waste their life trying to solve problems they couldn’t solve so, the policy was:
Try for 30 minutes to solve the problem. If, after that, you haven’t solved the problem; contact us and tell us the problem and how you tried to solve it. We will then help you get it solved.’
An assertive person will always try to solve their own problems first but once they know that they need help; they don’t hesitate to ask for it.
Being prepared to ask for help is a sign of strenght; not weakness.
9. Calmly discuss your beliefs without judging others
We live in a world where people have all manner of beliefs. Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs; even if they seem strange to you. It is perfectly possible to discuss your beliefs and the beliefs of others, in an honest and open manner; free from judgement. You can hold an alternative view without thinking any less of the other person.
This is an element of assertive behaviour which has become more important with every passing year. We no longer live in a world where there are few religions which prescribe to people exactly how they should live and what they should believe. Peoples' views about the world are now shaped by a multitude of experiences, for example:
Basically, we now live in a world where we all have the freedom to form our own beliefs about the world and; we have more access to opportunities to learn and explore. As a result, we come across people with a far broader range of beliefs and opinions than ever before. To be an assertive person, you need to be able to express your own beliefs while respecting the rights of others to hold different views.
An open mind, a desire to listen and the willingness to explore and consider other cultures and belief systems will help you become more of an assertive person.
Your beliefs and values form the very essence of who you are. Check out Values Based Living to learn more.
10. Feel comfortable expressing your honest opinion
You live in a world where you could never possibly know everything that is going on. You can’t be in more than one place at once so, you can’t witness everything. Even when you watch a report on the news or, a documentary, you are only getting a small percentage of the whole story.
As William James said, we are all amateur psychologists. We try to fill in the gaps in the information so that we can have the full story. What we are left with are assumptions and upon those assumptions, we build our opinions.
I stress this because it is important to remember that we will all have different opinions and none of those opinions are facts. So, when you are expressing your opinion and someone disagrees, it is quite possible that you are both wrong. As there is more than one way to be right, it is often possible that you are both right.
An assertive person recognises that differences will exist and rather than be upset by them, you should see these differences as an opportunity to have a friendly debate. Perhaps you will learn something.
Think for one moment. How comfortable are you when someone says the following to you?
‘We will just have to agree to disagree.’
I have seen people lose all control when somebody says that to them. They cannot accept that somebody disagrees with them. They feel that for them to be right, any other viewpoints must be wrong. An assertive person, on the other hand, will be comfortable both saying and receiving that response.
Expressing your honest feelings can lead to many difficult conversations. Read Avoid these mistakes when having a difficult conversation for more advice.
11. Feel like your needs are important
An assertive person will always be self-centred. That doesn’t mean you are selfish. You can still value the needs of others; in fact, you should. It just means that you value your own needs and you understand that they are important. You know that ensuring that your needs are met puts you in a position of strength whereby you will then be able to help others meet their needs.
Think of it like the safety warning on an airplane. You are advised to put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others. In other words, put your needs first and you will then be able to look after others.
When I was growing up, it was deemed a terrible insult to be told that you were self-centred or that you loved yourself. It was treated as being selfish but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Putting yourself first is not selfish, it is necessary. If you don’t ever put yourself first, you are being selfless which can be very damaging to your happiness, health and wellbeing. And, you will be in no position to help others.
Selfish is when you don’t care about others. It is as if they don’t even exist. You are not putting yourself first because there is nobody else getting any consideration. You are putting yourself on your own.
When you are self-centred, you are putting yourself first so that you are happy, healthy and strong. This allows you to make the most of your life while ensuring that you are in the best position to help others.
When you are selfless, you fail to think about yourself. You put others first and you are open to the manipulation and control of people who may not have your best interests at heart. You are damaging your own confidence and wellbeing because you are constantly sending yourself the message that you are not as important or valuable as others.
There will be a small percentage of times when you need to be selfish or selfless, but an assertive person will be self-centred most of the time.
It is important that you learn to recognise when someone is being assertive (self-centred) as opposed to selfish or selfless. Read 12 Aspects of assertive behaviour for more information.
12. Let people know that their behaviour is unacceptable
If somebody is behaving in an unacceptable manner, you have every right to tell them. An assertive person has no problem stating what is and is not acceptable.
Nobody is obliged to like you and they don’t have to respect you. But you have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. If you are wondering what the difference is between respecting somebody and treating them with respect, the best example is the criminal justice system. Even where it seems blatantly obvious that the accused is guilty of the crime; they are still entitled to a fair trial. The fair trail is treating them with respect, but you don’t have to respect them or the crime they have apparently committed. In the end, the way you treat someone says more about you than it does about them.
As an assertive person, you won’t be too upset if somebody dislikes you, but you will have an expectation that you will be treated with respect and dignity. Where that does not happen, you have the right to speak up and you should exercise that right. Whether it is poor service in a restaurant or an abusive friend, you should be comfortable speaking up.
Note: One important exception is that if speaking up would put you in physical danger, your first concern should be to remove yourself from that threatening situation.
If you are falling short in your efforts to be assertive, don't worry; Stop Being the Victim: How to Be Assertive willl set you on the right track
Now that you have considered these points, I will ask you again, ‘Are you an assertive person?’ If the you have realised that you are not assertive, there is nothing to panic about. Assertiveness is a skill which you can develop and nurture every day. You get plenty of opportunities every day to flex your assertiveness muscles. You just need to take those opportunities and strive to become more assertive. Once you have increased your assertiveness, you will start to see significant improvements throughout your life. Your time management will improve; your relationships will improve and your confidence will improve. In fact, once you have become assertive, there is no limit to what you can achieve.