The art of assertiveness: 9 ways to stop being a people-pleaser

Assertiveness is a fine art, a delicate balance between standing your ground and maintaining harmony.

Being a people-pleaser, on the other hand, can often lead to suppressing your own needs and desires. It’s about always saying “yes” when you really want to say “no”.

Learning to be assertive is about finding your voice and using it effectively, without coming off as aggressive or confrontational.

In this article, I’ll share with you 9 ways to stop being a people-pleaser and start being assertive. It’s time to prioritize yourself without feeling guilty or selfish. So let’s dive in.

1) Recognize your worth

An essential first step to stop being a people-pleaser is to understand and acknowledge your own worth.

Often, people-pleasers have a deep-rooted belief that they need to make others happy to be valued or accepted. This can stem from various experiences, but the result is the same: you put everyone else’s needs before your own.

But here’s the truth: Your worth is not determined by how much you do for others. You are valuable just as you are.

Recognizing your worth allows you to set boundaries. You begin to understand that you don’t have to please everyone all the time.

It’s okay to say no if something doesn’t align with your values or priorities. It’s okay to prioritize yourself, your needs, and your well-being.

Being assertive starts with understanding that your voice matters too. So, recognize your worth and let it guide you towards assertiveness.

2) Learn to say “no”

This was a big one for me. For the longest time, I had a real problem saying “no”. It felt like if I did, I would be letting people down or they might think less of me.

There was this one time when a colleague asked me to take on an extra project. It was a Friday evening, and I already had plans for the weekend. My heart was screaming “no”, but out of habit and fear of displeasing, I found myself saying “yes”.

What followed was a weekend full of stress and regret. I had to cancel my plans, work long hours and the worst part? I was seething with resentment towards my colleague and myself.

That’s when I realized the power of “no”. Saying “no” is not about being selfish or rude. It’s about respecting your own time, energy and boundaries.

From then on, I made a conscious effort to say “no” when something didn’t sit right with me. Believe me, it wasn’t easy at first. But with practice, it got easier and it made a world of difference in my life.

Learn to say “no”. It’s one of the most powerful tools in your assertiveness arsenal.

3) Practice active listening

Active listening is a key skill in being assertive. It’s about fully focusing on the speaker, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully.

This might come as a surprise, but studies reveal that we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear. That means when you talk to your boss for 10 minutes, they could only pay attention to less than half of the conversation.

So, by practicing active listening, you can stand out in your conversations. It allows you to understand others better, build stronger relationships, and respond assertively.

Assertiveness is not just about expressing your own thoughts and feelings, but also about understanding and respecting those of others. And active listening plays a crucial role in that.

4) Use “I” statements

The way you communicate can make a huge difference in how your message is perceived. One effective strategy is to use “I” statements.

Instead of saying, “You never listen to me”, which can come off as accusatory and put the other person on the defense, try “I feel ignored when I’m speaking and it seems like I’m not being heard”.

“I” statements allow you to express your feelings and needs clearly and directly without blaming or criticizing the other person.

This simple shift in language can help you communicate more assertively, reduce conflict, and lead to more productive discussions.

Start practicing using “I” statements. It’s a small change that can make a big difference in your assertiveness journey.

5) Establish boundaries

Establishing boundaries is a crucial step towards assertiveness and an important way to protect your time, energy and mental health.

Have you ever found yourself agreeing to something you didn’t want to do, simply to avoid conflict? Or maybe you’ve let others overstep your limits because you didn’t want to seem unkind.

We’ve all been there. But remember, it’s not only okay to set boundaries, it’s necessary.

It could be as simple as deciding not to check your work emails after a certain time, or telling a friend that you can’t lend them money anymore.

Establishing boundaries helps you define what is acceptable behavior towards you. It gives you the power to decide what you will or won’t tolerate.

It’s not always easy, and people might resist at first. But stay firm. You have every right to protect your wellbeing. Start setting those boundaries today.

6) Embrace self-compassion

Being assertive doesn’t mean you’ll get it right every time. There will be moments when you falter, maybe say “yes” when you wanted to say “no”, or fail to set a boundary.

And that’s perfectly okay.

It’s important to remember that being assertive is a journey, not a destination. There will be bumps along the way, and that’s where self-compassion comes in.

Self-compassion is about being gentle with yourself when things don’t go as planned. It’s about accepting your mistakes and understanding that everyone, yes everyone, has their off days.

When you stumble, instead of beating yourself up, remind yourself that you’re human and it’s okay to make mistakes. Pick yourself up, learn from the experience, and keep moving forward.

Embrace self-compassion. It’s not just good for your assertiveness journey, but for your overall well-being too.

7) Seek professional help

There was a time in my life when I felt completely stuck in my people-pleasing habits. No matter how hard I tried, I kept falling back into old patterns. That’s when I decided to seek professional help.

I started seeing a therapist who specialized in assertiveness training. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

The sessions provided me with a safe space to explore my fears and anxieties around assertiveness. The therapist helped me understand the root causes of my people-pleasing tendencies and equipped me with practical tools to break free from them.

Seeking professional help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a step towards empowerment. If you’re struggling with assertiveness, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. It could be the support you need to confidently navigate your assertiveness journey.

8) Keep learning and growing

Assertiveness is not a skill you master overnight. It’s a continuous process of learning and growth.

Read books on assertiveness, attend workshops, watch online tutorials. There’s a wealth of resources out there to help you.

The more knowledge you gain, the more empowered you’ll feel to stand up for your needs and wants.

Also, remember that it’s okay to stumble and make mistakes along the way. That’s part of the learning process. Each mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Keep learning, keep growing, and keep striving towards becoming a more assertive version of yourself. You’ve got this!

9) Believe in yourself

At the end of the day, assertiveness stems from a place of self-belief.

It’s about believing that your thoughts, feelings, and needs are just as important as anyone else’s. It’s about trusting your judgment and knowing that you have the right to express yourself.

So, start believing in yourself. Trust your instincts. Value your opinions.

You are worthy of respect, and you have the power to demand it.

Believe in yourself. It’s the cornerstone of assertiveness.

Final thought: It starts with you

The journey towards assertiveness and away from people-pleasing is deeply personal and unique to each individual.

It’s about understanding your worth, standing up for your needs, and fostering self-respect. It’s about making a conscious decision to prioritize your wellbeing without guilt or hesitation.

Remember the words of psychologist and author Dana Gionta, “You are the steward of your own energy.” In other words, you are in control of how you use your time, energy, and resources.

So next time you’re tempted to say “yes” when you want to say “no”, or when you feel compelled to please others at the expense of your wellbeing, pause. Reflect on these words. Understand that your needs matter and it’s okay to put yourself first.

Assertiveness isn’t about being selfish or rude. It’s about honoring yourself and cultivating healthy relationships. And it all starts with you.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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