Could have, would have, should have are the worst words to be thinking when walking away from confrontation or an incident in which you were unable to speak up for yourself. If you have ever wished you had been able to say something assertive during a conversation or a difficult situation, you are not alone. Many adults struggle with this. Finding the right words and the courage to speak up for yourself is challenging, even for adults.
Assertiveness: What it is and why we need it
Assertiveness is a style of communication in which you express your thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants clearly, directly, and respectfully. Being assertive can be challenging for many, depending on personality type, the specific circumstances, and the person you are dealing with. It is especially difficult for those with self worth issues, those who tend to get emotional easily, or those who tend to be “people pleasers.” Strong emotions (anger, disappointment, sadness) are often triggered during a confrontation and can feel overwhelming, causing you to lose your voice or retreat — a common scenario which often leaves a person feeling humiliated or ashamed.
Assertiveness is a learned skill, and many do not learn this skill until faced with difficult relationships or life circumstances. My voice and my assertiveness strengthened during my divorce. With the support of a great therapist and a few good friends, I found my voice. Although it was a challenging time, I used the opportunity to make personal improvements within myself, which is the best way to turn a difficult situation into a personal win. As with anything, practice will help you to develop the assertiveness skills you need, even when you’re feeling emotional. I have found there are no shortcuts when working on self-improvement. It requires effort and patience.
Keep in mind assertiveness should not be confused with aggression. When we are assertive, we are not acting hostilely, rudely or inconsiderately towards others. Being assertive is an act of empowerment that indicates you respect yourself, your needs, and your wants.
Much of my counseling work focuses on teaching and empowering girls and women to become more assertive. The positive benefits are far reaching and will touch every aspect of your life.
Assertiveness is an important skill in building and maintaining relationships. One of my clients who felt stuck and frustrated in her marriage learned to identify her needs and wants, which most women cannot do. She learned how to clearly communicate with her husband which resulted in (guess what?) getting some of her needs met. I cannot guarantee you will always get your needs met when you ask, but I can guarantee that learning to be more assertive will improve your confidence and likely produce positive changes, at least in yourself, which is the only thing you can control.
Benefits of Being Assertive
- Improved communication
- Greater confidence
- Increased self-esteem
- Respect from others
- Reduced stress and anxiety
Tips for Being Assertive
- Have a clear idea of what you wish to communicate
- Practice what you’re going to say before you say it. Use words that will not make the other person feel attacked, such as “I need” or “I want,” instead of “You should” or “You did.”
- Choose a mutually beneficial time to discuss the specific matter at hand. You may even want to have another individual present if you are feeling intimidated.
- Listen to the other person’s response, even if you disagree. We don’t always get our way when we speak up.
- Most importantly, stay positive and have a “support person” with whom you can process this afterward.
Being assertive will allow you to ask for that raise or promotion, to negotiate with your spouse, to be your own advocate, or to report abusive behavior. It’s time to see yourself as part of the solution.
Practicing assertiveness will make it easier for you to verbalize your thoughts and needs calmly and effectively. Even if you don’t get the results you desire, congratulate yourself for taking this leap. Remember, our children are looking to us to model assertiveness so they will have the confidence and courage to speak up in their relationships, both personal and professional.
Book Recommendation: The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed by Harriet Lerner