The art of being assertive: 10 ways to get what you want without offending others

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Growing up I was told to make everyone happy and be “nice.”

Being assertive and stating my needs was not something I was taught by my parents or authority figures in my life. 

But as I matured I realized the hard way that it’s absolutely essential, and I had to develop the ability to be assertive and get what I want without offending others. 

Here’s how to do it.

1) Say “I” instead of “You”

Instead of focusing on what somebody else should be doing or is doing wrong, focus on what you want. 

Using I statements is an effective way to be more assertive without being accusatory. 

By focusing on where you’re coming from, you avoid assuming too much about anybody else or accusing them of something that can make them defensive or upset in a counterproductive way. 

For example: say “I feel this way…” instead of “you always make me feel this way…” 

Speak using “I”: it’s more direct and assertive. 

2) Listen actively instead of passively

Active listening is the process of hearing why somebody is saying something and what they want instead of just the words coming out of their mouth. 

By listening actively to what somebody else is saying, you can ensure that you communicate as directly as possible and stand up for yourself in a proactive and clear way.

By really trying your best to understand what somebody is saying and why you can have much more leverage and power in any interaction. Even if you end up conflicting, you’ll know why you disagree and what you want instead. 

So it’s worth your time to listen! 

Listen, then talk: it’s the key to being effectively assertive.

3) Keep calm body language instead of being pushy

Assertive body language is important, but it is not the same thing as aggressive body language

Two confident people may walk into a room, but while one drives people away and is seen as a “jerk,” the other is seen as “cool” and “knows what she’s doing.”

The difference? Aggressiveness versus assertiveness. 

Having an upright posture, looking people in the eye and walking confidently are all crucial, but it’s also important not to go too far into swaggering, hair-flipping arrogance or overly pushy body language.

Try to minimize fidgeting and shifting around on your feet, keeping calm and steady with regular, consistent breathing. But also don’t put on any shows. Keep it cool and fairly low-key. It speaks volumes. 

4) Choose the right time and place instead of winging it

Becoming more assertive overall is certainly helpful, but it is also crucial to pick your time and place. 

For example if you are trying to ask for a raise at work, don’t just blurt it out. 

Be strategic about it and ask at a time that your boss is in a good mood or the company is doing especially well. 

If you want to speak up about your political position among a group of friends who have been hassling you about how “X” your views are, don’t do so on a random night out when angry discussions are likely.

Send a respectful note to the group chat or talk to your friends one day at lunch when you’re all very sober and kindly state your perspective. 

Don’t just wing it! 

Being assertive does no good if you aren’t also smart!

5) Be clear and specific instead of vague and general

Assertiveness is greatly aided by being specific instead of being vague. 

Many people make great strides in becoming more confident and standing up for themselves, but they don’t take enough time to think about the specifics of what they want or what they don’t want. 

Due to this lack of real specificity, they end up becoming more generally confident but still mistreated by others and walked on because they simply aren’t clear about what they want or not!

6) Express empathy instead of only talking about your needs

This relates back to the earlier point of trying to use eye statements.

To be effectively assertive, it’s key that you also practice empathy and understand where somebody else is coming from.

This is a way to defuse moments of conflict as well as gain more leverage during moments of opportunity. 

Why is this person doing this? What’s their motivation? What’s their secret weakness or strength?

Once you know, you have the leverage. 

7) Offer solutions instead of focusing on the problem

Assertiveness isn’t only about making your voice heard. 

It’s about making your voice count. 

And a big part of that is saying things that matter and which are based on competence, knowledge and being effective. 

The more that you offer solutions instead of just focusing on problems, the more people will turn to you, trust you and listen up when you talk. 

This is something that film star and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger writes about a lot in his new book “Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life”.

It’s not just about having a loud voice and being muscular! It’s about actually knowing what you’re talking about and looking for solutions in a useful way.

8) Practice self-reflection instead of only focusing on assertion

Assertiveness is not only about what you do, it’s about why you do it and what you don’t do.

This requires reflection and considerable discernment. 

When engaging in introspection, you’re able to realize many ways in which your assertiveness can be improved and adapted to different situations. 

You can also think about ways in which you want to be more assertive going forward. 

9) Set firm boundaries instead of lashing out when lines are crossed 

Being assertive does sometimes require being a bit uncomfortable. 

This means having firm boundaries and speaking out when they get crossed. When lines get crossed, many have a tendency to downplay it or ignore the bad behavior. 

They may avoid confrontation or speaking out, whether it was a personal or professional area where somebody overstepped their bounds. 

Instead, it’s important to be specific and stand up for your boundaries, as well as call out those who cross them to ensure they don’t think they can get away with it again. 

Speaking of firm boundaries… 

10) Learn to say no politely instead of overreacting 

Far too many great people I know get stepped on and used by others because they can’t say no.

Learning to say no is deeply connected with being willing to be disliked. 

Many people grew up with people-pleasing ingrained in them and are highly uncomfortable letting somebody else down or disappointing somebody’s expectations. 

Like it or not, however, learning to say no and potentially disappoint somebody is a definite prerequisite of becoming more assertive and standing up for yourself. 

Sometimes the best answer is no. Just no! 

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