How I became a more assertive woman, and learned to say “no”

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I’ve always looked up to those powerful women.

The ones who seem to know their own minds and won’t be told otherwise. The women who stand their ground and stick up for themselves.

The ones who say ‘no’ to the things they don’t want to do, rather than people please or try so desperately to keep the peace.

But I’ll be honest, I never in a million years thought that I could become one of those women.

A woman who dared to put her needs first, and make those needs perfectly clear to those around her.

Yet, slowly but surely, I have.

Because here’s the thing:

Powerful women create their power, they’re not born that way.

It was a mixture of mindset shifts and practical tools that ultimately got me here. I’d like to share those with you in this article.

So, without further adieu, this is how I became a more assertive woman in 5 simple steps…

1) Know your own worth

I’m sure you saw it coming.

I mean, for starters self-love is a buzzword that’s everywhere these days.

But to be fair, it’s for good reason. It’s still the foundation on which everything else is built.

So you can try all the tips and tricks in the world to become more assertive, but without enough self-worth, it will always crumble.

Sure, when it comes to confidence, you can certainly fake it till you make it. But you still need to make it!

A lack of assertiveness can rest upon feelings of lack in general.

Ask yourself whether you value your own needs, beliefs, opinions, feelings, and time?

When we don’t we’re more prone to letting others walk all over us, or having weak boundaries.

For example, on greater reflection, I came to see that despite the mask of confidence I was putting on to the outside world, it was a different picture on the inside.

Guilt, shame and a feeling others were somehow more worthy than me were getting in the way of me fighting my own corner.

If you want more specific advice on how to cultivate greater self-love then I’d suggest checking out these other Hackspirit articles at some point:

10 ways to learn to love yourself (everything you need to know)

10 ways to practice self-love and believe in yourself again

2) Question what being assertive means to you

I think I used to struggle with assertiveness partly because I was misinterpreting what it even is.

I worried I would come across as:

  • Bossy
  • Demanding
  • Diva
  • Unreasonable
  • Aggressive
  • Moody
  • Selfish

Of course, true assertiveness is none of those things.

Rest assured that being assertive isn’t going to turn you into The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s actually pretty simple:

You’re just being honest about your needs, wants, opinions, preferences, ideas, and feelings, etc.

You’re just speaking your truth, and it’s up to others to agree or disagree, which is their prerogative.

Think of it this way:

My job is to put forward my perspective in a reasonable and fair way. That’s it. How it will be received is out of my hands.

Stop trying to take responsibility for other people, because the only real influence you have is over yourself.

The solution I found for this was using so-called “I” statements.

So when I wanted to say something I made sure I took ownership of it by making it clear it was just how I felt or what I thought, rather than fact.

For example,

In a work meeting, I’d always feel super nervous putting forward my own thoughts.

I didn’t want to look like I was contradicting other people. Neither did I want it to seem like I was saying my ideas or suggestions were better than anyone else’s.

But when we say “I think”, “I feel”, “I believe”, “I would like”, “I hope”,  etc. the important part is the “I”.

You are making yourself very clear but without any risk of sounding accusatory or matter-of-fact about things.

3) Rather than saying “no”, just say yes more slowly

For so many of us, and women in particular, the word “no” can feel very challenging.

It feels like a rejection. We worry that we won’t be liked if we say no. We fear we will be seen as difficult or awkward.

We want to always please others. We want to feel like we can do it all. Even though neither of these is humanly possible.

The reality is that unfortunately, there isn’t a shortcut to making “no” feel less awkward. It’s something that gets easier the more we practice it.

But the good news is we can soften the blow whilst we get more used to saying no.

Rather than saying yes straight away, and living to regret it, the hack is to simply say yes more slowly.


Give a maybe instead. Tell someone you need to think about it. But yourself more time.

Not only is this perfectly reasonable, it actually shows you are giving something greater consideration — which is respectful.

Stop indiscriminately saying yes. Instead, say something along the lines of:

“Let me get back to you on that”

“Hmm, good question, I’m not sure. Can I let you know?”

“I don’t know right now, let me think about it properly”.

It’s not a straightforward no, but importantly, neither is it a yes.

This does two things:

  1. It gives you time to more carefully think about what you want to say no to and what you are prepared to say yes to, rather than being put on the spot.
  2. If you do opt to say no, it shows the person it is at least something you’ve thought about.

Even though it can be really uncomfortable to begin with, I promise you this:

Over time, the more you hear yourself voicing the word “no” the easier it feels.

Ask any of my friends, these days I have no problem turning down an invitation, and rather than feel awkward, it feels great!

You don’t become assertive overnight, it starts with the smallest of actions and intentions which you build over time.

4) Rehearse being assertive

I don’t know about you, but in the aftermath of something I always tend to have those “this is what I should have said” moments.

Your head quickly floods with all the points you could have made or the words you should have used.

Yet at the time, it all escaped you.

It’s true what they say that practice makes perfect. And we can’t always rely on ourselves in the heat of the moment to get it right.

That’s why it can be a good idea to practice behind the scenes.

For example, let’s say you often end up saying yes to things you later regret. Or maybe you seem to let people constantly interrupt you and cut you off when you’re speaking.

Rehearse being assertive in certain scenarios.

That might be role-playing certain tricky situations with someone you trust or even in front of a mirror.

Personally, I find it really helpful to write out what I want to say. That way it’s easier to get an objective and almost outside view of things.

5) Don’t push away your feelings

Shall we be honest?

Learning to become a more assertive woman will feel “ick” at times.

The mere thought of creating waves can be hella uncomfortable.

This was definitely one of the things that for so long held me back from even making a start on becoming more assertive.

My advice is don’t swallow all the feelings that come up.

It’s really important we find outlets for them.

Some of my faves include:

  • Journaling
  • Nattering with a friend about it all
  • Talking to a therapist

The reality is that conflict, whether it’s resolved in a constructive way or not, can bring up a lot of emotions.

The better we seek to understand and deal with our feelings the less likely we will get angry or upset during those times we need to assert ourselves.

The more you simultaneously work on your self-awareness, the better you’ll keep your cool and stay confident when you need to be assertive.

Oh, and taking a few very deep breaths also works a charm in keeping a handle on your emotions!

Final thoughts: If you can’t be assertive your feelings have a habit of coming out anyway but in toxic ways!

Here’s what plenty of passive-aggressive sulks and martyr-like moans eventually taught me:

By not learning to become more assertive, I was doing myself and others around me more harm than good.

I was creating unnecessary stress and anxiety by not learning how to more effectively communicate.

And at the end of the day, that’s all assertiveness is — another communication skill.

We are human. And so our feelings and frustrations have a habit of always coming to light eventually.

But when you don’t consciously give them a healthy outlet, that may well be in a destructive way.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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