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Assertiveness

Step 1: Identifying your trouble spots

To start, ask yourself the following questions to identify what area(s) to work on:

  • Do I struggle to ask for what I want?
  • Is it hard to state my opinion?
  • Do I have trouble saying no?

Tips for Communicating Assertively:

  • Many people find it hard to ask for what they want, feeling that they don’t have the right to ask, or fearing the consequences of the request. For example, you may think, “What if he says no?” or “She would think I am rude for asking”.
  • When making a request, it can be helpful to start by saying something that shows you understand the other person’s situation. For example, “I know you probably have had a lot on your mind lately.”
  • Next, describe the situation and how you feel about it. For example, “This presentation is due next Friday and I am feeling pretty overwhelmed, and worried that I won’t be able to get it done in time.” It is important to talk about your feelings, not to make accusations to others. For example, it is better to say, “I feel resentful when you show up late to meet me” than it is to say, “you are always late! You don’t care about me!”
  • Then, describe what you would like to see happen. Be as brief and positive as possible. For example, “I’d really like to figure out how we can share more of the work responsibilities.”
  • Last, tell the person what would happen if your request was honoured. How would you feel? Sometimes, you may want to add what you will do in return. For example, “I would make sure to help create the slides for your presentation next week.”
  • Many people have trouble expressing their views openly. Perhaps you wait for others to give their opinion first, and will share yours only if you happen to agree. Being assertive means being willing to state your opinion, even if others haven’t done so or if your opinion is different.
  • Being assertive means that you “own” your opinion; that is, you take responsibility for your view; for example, “My personal view is that it was unfair for her to ask that of you.”
  • Being assertive also means being willing to consider new information, and even changing your mind. However, it does not mean changing your mind just because others think differently.

Tips for Saying “No”

  • Saying “No” can be difficult if you are usually more passive. However, if you are not able to say no to others, you are not in charge of your own life.
  • When saying “No”, remember to use assertive body language (e.g. standing straight, eye contact, speaking loudly enough that the other person can hear).
  • Before you speak, decide what your position is. For example, think about how you will say “No” to a request, such as, “I would like to help you out but I already have quite a bit of work to get done this week.”
  • Make sure to actually wait for the question, and don’t say “Yes” before the other person even makes the request.
  • Take care not to apologize, defend yourself or make excuses for saying “No” when it is not necessary.
  • If saying “No” right away is too difficult, practice telling someone, “I need to think about it” as a first step. This will help break the cycle of always saying yes, and will give you a chance to think about what you really want to do.

Remember: Everyone has the right to say “No!”

Step 2: Practice your new assertiveness skill

  • First, think of a couple of past scenarios when you avoided giving your opinion or preference, saying “No”, or asking for what you wanted. How could you have handled the situation differently? What would be an assertive way to communicate in those situations?
  • Practice saying your assertive statement out loud to yourself, to get used to it. For example, “Actually, I thought the movie dragged on a bit”, “Unfortunately, I can’t help you out next weekend”, or “I’d like the dishes done before 9 o’clock”.
  • Next, think of a situation that is coming up in the next week in which you could use your assertiveness skills. Begin with a scenario that is easier, for example, giving your opinion or saying “No” to more familiar people, and then try it in more difficult situations.
  • Try it out – how did it go? Notice how the other person reacted. Would you do something differently next time? Remember: assertiveness is like any new skill, and requires time and practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are feeling nervous, or not getting it quite right. Reward yourself when you do speak up!

Note: Sometimes people who are not used to us being assertive may need some time to adjust. Just because people may not initially respond in a positive way, doesn’t mean that being assertive is wrong – they just need to adjust to the change!