7 Ways to Become More Assertive so You’re Less Stressed

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You’re buried at work. And your boss keeps giving you added responsibilities and new projects. On the one hand, it’s great that she’s confident in your work and you’ve become her go-to person. On the other, the thrill is gone. You keep saying yes, the work is piling up, and what started out as a compliment to your abilities has become a pattern … with no end in sight. Anger, resentment, and the accompanying stress are building.

You usually speak up. You don’t let people jump in front of you in line. You let the waiter know when your food is cold. You share ideas and concerns in meetings. Where did this passive behavior come from?

Experts say that if you’re like many people, you respond differently depending on the situation or person involved. It’s easier to be assertive with a coworker than with your boss; with your spouse vs. an old friend; with a thoughtful, equally assertive person vs. an aggressive, manipulative, or oblivious person. Regardless, an assertive response is always best.

Assertive people stand up for themselves in an honest, respectful way.

The obvious benefit of being assertive is you have control … you’re able to speak up about things that matter to you. The less obvious benefit is you actually reduce conflict (both internal and external) and the stress it causes.

How assertive are you?

Girl playing trumpetHow do you react to a friend who is chronically late? How do you respond if someone cuts in front of you in line? What if your boss adds yet another project to your already full plate?

A passive person would just allow these things to happen, in an effort to avoid any conflict. Long term, they might start avoiding the offending person or situation altogether. This seemingly passive person could actually be fuming inside, causing stress to escalate.

An aggressive person would call attention to the behavior in a demanding and demeaning way. This behavior could actually lead to heightened conflict. Or the lack of respect could damage any further relationship with the person.

The assertive person would speak up nicely, calling attention to the problem.

Before you start making changes to your behavior, consider where you stand now. Do you give your opinion or stay quiet? Do you say yes to more work even though your plate is full? How do you call attention to the behavior of others when it isn’t working for you? Check out this assertiveness quiz from Psychology Today.

Here are 7 assertiveness techniques:

  1. Use “I” statements and “feeling” verbs. Say “I think” or “I don’t agree,” rather than “you’re wrong.” This keeps your comments from sounding accusatory.
  2. Out of focus woman with her hands signalingPractice saying “no.” If you don’t want to do something or don’t have time, say “no.” If your plate is chronically too full, you might need to practice. Keep your explanation brief, or don’t give one at all.
  3. Have one consistent message. If you’re dealing with someone manipulative, repeat your message clearly, and as often as you need to.
  4. Practice what you’re planning to say. If you struggle with speaking up, rehearse. It might help to write down what you want to say. Then practice it out loud and tweak where needed.
  5. Act confident. Have good posture and eye contact. Use neutral or positive facial expressions. Don’t make dramatic gestures or wring your hands.
  6. Stay calm. Try to remember being assertive is not the same as conflict. You’re going to nicely state what you need or what’s concerning you. Breathe slowly and keep your voice steady. Wait a bit if you’re feeling too emotional about the subject.
  7. Start with something small. Before you tackle something that’s bothering you at work, try out your new assertiveness skills on a friend or family member. For a friend who’s chronically late, “I know you have a lot going on … “

Be assertive. Your direct, respectful approach will help control things that affect you, and lead to stronger relationships with those around you, both personal and at work.


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.