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Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself Effectively

Have you ever asked yourself why it seems you can never stand up for yourself? That you’re always giving in to other people’s wants rather than attending to your own needs? Or maybe you just can’t say “no” when someone asks you to do something for them? Well, the good news is that assertiveness is a skill that you can master with practice and patience. If you’ve been acting passive your whole life, it might be challenging to make this change, but it is completely doable!

First, it’s helpful to understand the differences between aggressive, assertive, and passive communications. Aggressive is when you only consider your own feelings and needs. It includes being rude, yelling, sarcasm, or generally bullying other people into your way of thinking. It is about winning. Passive behavior is when you put others’ feelings and needs above your own. You don’t speak up, let others speak over you, or you always defer to others. With aggressive behavior, you’re bullying others and considering your feelings only, whereas, with passive communication, you ignore your own feelings and needs and worry only about everyone else. Assertive behavior considers both your feelings and other people’s feelings. You not only express your feelings (in a respectful way), but you also listen to the other guy’s point of view as well.

So now that you understand the different ways to communicate, you need to learn the skills of being assertive. Let’s explore these one at a time.

1. Saying no. If you’ve been passive all your life, chances are that you’ve agreed to do some things along the way that you really didn’t want to do! You’ve said yes when you really wanted to say no because you didn’t want to hurt other people or didn’t want people to dislike you. But this is just being passive and putting others’ feelings and needs in front of your own. You absolutely are allowed to say no! You can be gracious and kind and still say no. If saying no outright is too difficult for you, try a delay tactic like, “I’ll need to check with my husband and get back with you”, or “Let me check my calendar and get back with you tomorrow”. Even “Hmmm, let me think about that and I’ll let you know”. If nothing else, it gives you time to decide how to say what you want to say.

2. Use “I” statements. The basic format of the “I” statement is “I feel _________ when you ___________ because _____________. For example, I feel angry when you tell me what to do because it seems like you don’t respect my choices. The idea is to express your feelings in a way that isn’t judgmental and in which you take responsibility for yourself. If instead you had said, “You make me so mad when you tell me what to do!”, this might make the other person feel defensive and be more likely to respond in an aggressive manner.

3. No Excuses Needed. When you say no to someone, you do not have to explain yourself. You really don’t. You can, and probably do want to decline in a kind, gracious manner, but you do not owe anyone an explanation.

4. Broken Record Method. This goes along with #3, no excuses! If you run into someone who is not accepting of your answer, you can use this technique of simply repeating yourself. If you’ve already told Mary that you can’t bake cookies for the school bake sale, but she keeps asking, then just repeat your answer, “No Mary, I can’t do that at this time.” Say it in a pleasant tone and kindly but say it as many times as needed before the person gets the message.

So there you have 4 solid methods to increase your assertiveness. Now it’s up to you. Find ways to practice standing up for yourself and being assertive every day. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to use these tools when you really need them.

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