But Assertiveness May Not Come Naturally!

Being able to express yourself confidently and respectfully is a valuable skill which we call ‘assertiveness’. It helps you succeed in life, work and your personal relationships. In this article, we explore why assertiveness is important, how to deal with difficult people and provide some practical tips to help you become more assertive.

“In Britain our culture encourages us to be polite and avoid conflict and confrontation, so being assertive can be discouraged,” says Christopher Lamotte at the Real Marketing Transformation, consultants and coaches.

“Assertiveness is often thought of as a bad thing or being aggressive. However, it’s not about dominating people or conversations, talking over others, speaking down to people or being confrontational. It’s more about standing up for yourself and what you believe to be right.”

In the office, standing up to someone or confronting them politely can be an act of kindness and can make your relationship stronger.

The truth is learning assertiveness is a critical life skill and professional skill. Being assertive allows you to share your ideas, make decisions, negotiate effectively and resolve conflicts. It helps you set boundaries, earn respect from others, work constructively with difficult individuals and build better relationships.

Assertiveness lets you express your needs, communicate clearly, and handle conflicts in a positive way. It boosts your self-confidence, helps you make progress, reduces stress, and improves your overall well-being.

How to Deal with Difficult People

When other people don’t behave in ways that reflect your values, it’s easy to respond with disappointment, frustration or anger. But responding in the wrong way, can make the situation worse.

Having positive expectations of them, rather than ‘high’ expectations, can really help. High expectations can result in specific, narrow results. So, next time you’re with someone you’ve always found difficult to deal with, start with a positive expectation and don’t respond in a habitual way that’s based on how they’ve behaved in the past.

When reacting to a difficult person, avoid sending mixed messages by ensuring that your words, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice all match. You need to adopt a couple of confident gestures and the rest of your body and mind will match up.

You can use two or three of these approaches to help make you feel and come across as more confident:

  • Sand or sit straight and keep your head level.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Spread your weight evenly on both legs when you are sitting.
  • Keep your elbows on the arms of your chair (and not tightly against your sides).
  • Make appropriate eye contact.
  • Lower the pitch of your voice and speak more slowly and quietly.

Thinking in terms of solutions and consequences is a powerful way to deal with difficult people because you engage the rational, reasonable left side of your brain, rather than the emotional, impulsive part of your brain. When you’re reacting in an emotional way, it’s difficult to think clearly, to be reasonable and rational. You need to have a ‘problem-solving conversation’.

When someone is being critical it’s because they’ve got a problem – a situation that needs a solution.

With aggressive people you must send a clear signal that you are strong and capable – anything less is an invitation for further attacks. Their intimidating approach makes it unlikely that someone will have the courage to challenge them. But unless you challenge the other person politely and calmly, they won’t change.

Tips on How to Be More Assertive

Here are some practical tips on how to improve your assertiveness:

  1. Communicate Clearly: Assertiveness relies on clear communication. Speak confidently, expressing your thoughts and opinions while also listening to others. Use phrases like “I feel” or “I believe” to express yourself. Use “I” and avoid using “you…” which can often come across aggressively. Avoid linking sentences with the word “but” which signals that you’re about to disagree with them. Be direct, honest, and respectful in your conversations, and avoid both aggressive and passive language.
  2. Build Boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries is important. Clearly define what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. It’s okay to say “no”, when necessary, without feeling guilty. Practice saying “no” politely but firmly and suggest alternatives or compromises when disagreeing or declining requests.
  3. Resolve Conflicts Positively: Conflicts are a normal part of life, but assertiveness can help you handle them in a positive way. Approach conflicts with a problem-solving mindset and actively listen using ‘reflective listening’ to genuinely understand other people’s perspectives. Express your concerns assertively and objectively, focusing on the issue itself rather than attacking individuals. Try to find solutions that benefit everyone involved.
  4. Notice How You React to Challenging Situations: Analyse and understand your thoughts, emotions, and values. Take time to think about your values, strengths, and areas where you can improve. Notice if you react to situations badly using learned bad habits. Pay attention to how you communicate through body language, tone of voice, and your own style of speaking. Knowing yourself better will help you become more assertive.

Practising reflective listening has two aspects to how you listen:

  1. Repeating,
  2. Summarizing and paraphrasing.

Listen to and acknowledge the other person’s situation and feelings and offer a solution. Reflective listening can defuse a situation by helping the other person see that their feelings and point of view are being taken seriously.

An obvious and natural way to show that you are listening is by using non-verbal communication to acknowledge what someone else is saying, such as making eye contact, nodding your head in acknowledgement or shaking your head in disagreement.

These small signals are known as ‘minimal encouragers’. Minimal encouragers are simple, direct ways to let the other person know you are listening. Sounds and words like ‘uh- huh’, ‘yes’, ‘oh’, ‘mmm’ and little actions like nodding in the appropriate places show that you are listening. With little in the way of interruption by you, minimal encouragers get the other person to talk.

Developing a positive mindset is crucial for assertiveness. Replace self-doubt and negative thoughts with positive statements.

As Adam Galinsky says in his TEDxNewYork talk ‘How to speak up for yourself’ you can increase your assertiveness in these ways: encourage other people’s opinions, ask for their advice, tap into their passion, avoid misunderstandings, find common ground, signal flexibility and understand how much power you have.

Assertiveness empowers you to take control of your work and life, and helps you find success and happiness.

By understanding yourself, reflective listening, communicating effectively, setting boundaries, resolving conflicts constructively, and maintaining a positive mindset, you can harness the power of assertiveness.

If you’d like to discuss your marketing challenges or want to investigate marketing and growth coaching, please contact me, Christopher Lamotte, for a no-obligation discovery call. See some of my video testimonials.

I’m grateful to Gill Hasson’s book ‘How to Deal With Difficult People: Smart Tactics for Overcoming the Problem People in Your Life’ for some of the ideas in this article.

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