If you want to be more assertive without sounding aggressive, say goodbye to these 7 habits

My father once told me, “Assertiveness is a virtue, not a vice.”

It’s true, isn’t it? Assertiveness is the golden middle path between passivity and aggression. 

It’s about standing up for yourself, expressing your thoughts and feelings openly, all while maintaining respect for others. 

It’s no small feat to balance these elements, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Yet, do you ever feel like your attempts at assertiveness come off as more aggressive than assertive?

Here’s the deal.

This could be because you’re unknowingly holding onto certain habits that blur the line between assertiveness and aggression.

In that case, it might be time to wave goodbye to these habits. It’s not about changing who you are but about tweaking the way you communicate. 

Read on as we explore them together.

1) Ditching the ‘you’ statements

Ever caught yourself saying, “You never listen to me” or “You always forget about our plans”?

Here’s a quick tip.

‘You’ statements can often come off as accusatory and confrontational, putting the other person on the defensive. This can quickly escalate a conversation into an argument, making you seem more aggressive rather than assertive.

What’s the fix?

Try using ‘I’ statements instead. They allow you to express your feelings without blaming or criticizing the other person. 

For example, instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try, “I feel unheard when what I say is overlooked.”

Simple, isn’t it?

It’s not about placing blame but communicating how their actions affect you. This small switch can make a significant difference in your assertiveness journey.

2) Learning to say no

There was a time when I found it incredibly hard to say no.

Whether it was taking up an extra project at work or doing a favor for a friend on my day off, I always found myself saying yes, despite feeling overwhelmed.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The problem was, my inability to say no wasn’t viewed as assertiveness. Instead, it was seen as a lack of boundaries, leading others to take advantage of my willingness to help.

Here’s what I learned.

Being assertive means understanding your limits and respecting them. It’s about having the courage to say no when you need to, without feeling guilty or worrying about offending someone.

So next time you’re asked to do something that you simply don’t have the capacity for, try saying, “I appreciate your request, but I won’t be able to help out this time.”

Trust me, it’s liberating. And it doesn’t make you aggressive; it just shows that you value your time and space.

3) Letting emotions dictate your responses

There’s this embarrassing memory from a couple of years back which still makes me cringe. I was in a team meeting and a colleague criticized my proposal. I felt attacked, so I shot back instantly with a harsh comment.

Yikes, right?

Allowing our emotions to guide our responses can trigger an aggressive reaction rather than an assertive one. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

The key here is to practice emotional control. When you feel your emotions surging, try to take a deep breath, or even step away for a moment if you can. 

This gives you time to calm down and frame a more composed, assertive response.

Let’s be honest, it’s not easy. 

But the next time you find yourself in a heated situation, instead of lashing back, try saying something like, “I appreciate your feedback. Let’s discuss how we can improve this proposal together.”

It’s all about finding balance. And trust me, it’s worth it.

4) Over-apologizing

Apologizing has its place, sure. But when you’re constantly saying sorry, especially when it’s not necessary, it can undermine your assertiveness.

Excessive apologies can make you seem less confident and more passive. And let’s be real, it can be pretty annoying to others as well.

Let’s work on being more mindful of our apologies. If you’re about to apologize out of habit rather than necessity, pause for a moment. Consider whether an apology is really warranted in that situation.

Instead of starting your sentence with an apology, try being direct with your thoughts. Say, “I think…” or “I suggest…”. This way, you’re asserting your ideas without diminishing their value.

Assertiveness is about respecting both yourself and others. And part of that respect means not apologizing for having an opinion or expressing a thought.

5) Avoiding eye contact

Eye contact. It’s a small act but holds so much power. Did you know that maintaining eye contact can increase the perceived sincerity of your words?

Here’s how it works.

When we avoid eye contact, we may unintentionally send the message that we’re insecure or not confident in what we’re saying. This can make us seem less assertive and even more passive.

On the flip side, maintaining eye contact when we speak shows that we’re engaged in the conversation and confident in our thoughts and feelings.

But there’s a fine line. Staring without blinking can be perceived as aggression, while too little eye contact can come off as avoidance.

Aim for balance. Try to maintain natural eye contact when you’re speaking or listening. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it can become second nature.

6) Neglecting self-care

Sometimes, we’re so caught up in trying to be assertive that we forget to take care of ourselves. We push ourselves too hard, ignoring the signs of stress and exhaustion until we’re running on fumes.

Sound like you?

It’s important to remember that it’s okay, actually it’s necessary, to take time out for self-care. Being assertive doesn’t mean ignoring your own needs and well-being.

Because here’s the thing.

If you’re constantly stressed or exhausted, it can be much harder to communicate assertively. You may be more likely to snap at others or come across as aggressive instead of assertive.

Make sure to set aside time for yourself regularly. Whether it’s a quiet evening with a book, a walk in the park, or a yoga session, do what helps you relax and recharge.

In caring for yourself, you’re also caring for your ability to be assertively communicative. It’s a win-win.

7) Listening to respond, not to understand

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’re in the middle of a conversation, and instead of truly listening to what the other person is saying, we’re already formulating our response in our minds.

This habit doesn’t serve us well.

In fact, it’s a surefire way to come off as aggressive rather than assertive. Because assertiveness is not just about expressing your thoughts and feelings; it’s equally about understanding and respecting the thoughts and feelings of others.

When you listen to understand, you create a space for open and honest communication. You signal to the other person that their perspective matters. 

And when you respond, it comes from a place of understanding and empathy rather than defensiveness or aggression.

So, make it a point to truly listen. Not simply to respond, but to understand. It’s one of the most powerful tools in your assertiveness toolkit.

Final thoughts

If any of these habits ring true for you, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have tendencies that can sometimes hinder our ability to communicate assertively.

The good news? These habits don’t have to define how you express yourself.

With awareness and practice, we can shift from aggression to assertiveness. It’s about balancing our needs with respect for others. It’s about expressing our thoughts without diminishing the thoughts of others.

Ask yourself – am I truly communicating assertively, or am I veering towards aggression?

Change doesn’t happen overnight. But with each small adjustment, each conscious effort, you’ll find yourself becoming more assertive and less aggressive.

So, give yourself grace and patience on this journey.

Celebrate your victories, however small they may seem. And remember, assertiveness isn’t just a communication style – it’s a way of living that respects both ourselves and those around us.

As you embark on this journey of self-improvement, always remember that your voice is valuable and deserves to be heard – assertively and respectfully.

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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