Find Your Inner Assertiveness
Be strong and speak up
It can be difficult to be assertive in some situations, even for the most strong-willed women. For others, finding your inner assertiveness can be even tougher. This is due, in part, because women are raised to be polite, wait their turn, and not argue.
But in order to be successful in your personal and professional life, a degree of assertiveness is essential.
Here are tips from experts on how to be more assertive.
Be assertive professionally
Kim Eddleston, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University in Boston, wrote her master’s thesis at Cornell on how women can gain more career success and she’s a professional speaker on the topic.
Despite this, Eddleston said she still makes basic mistakes that are tied to gender norms. With that in mind, here are her tips that focus on assertiveness and getting one's point across without being seen as aggressive:
- Speak with authority and confidence. Do not scream or sound emotional, and do not end sentences with an upswing in tone (i.e. do not make declarative sentences sound like questions). I tell my daughters, especially my rather shy 12-year old, to “Speak with certainty.” It is very important that women sound like they are an authority on a topic (they know what they are talking about) and that they are confident in their views. An additional point, don't just quietly wait for your turn to speak or wait to be invited to offer your opinion, be ready to interject.
- Offer factual support for your ideas/viewpoints. Try not to talk about how you “feel” or what you “believe.” Instead, use facts to support your ideas and arguments. This often means coming to a meeting well prepared; knowing your position and doing your homework to support it. Do not overwhelm others with a list of facts, but rather, choose 2-4 compelling facts that support your arguments best. Remember, you want to persuade others, not force your way.
- One advantage women naturally have is their ability to collaborate and work with others. Thus, in trying to convince others of your viewpoint, work to find win-win solutions. Show the other person how your goals are the same and how working together (or following your idea) can help you accomplish them.
- Take claim of your ideas. Women tend to use the terms “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “my.” This hurts their authority. This takes some skill, but it is most effective when a woman knows when to take full claim of an idea (“I”) and when to share (“we”). Knowing when to use each tactic can be very effective in gaining authority and buy-in.
- Finally, watch your body language. Be calm, maintain eye contact, and do not assume a passive pose. You want to look confident. If you are nervous before a meeting and feeling intimidated, go to a private place (bathroom stall, office) and stretch your arms above your head and take deep breaths. Then stand for a few moments with your legs wide and hands on your hips - in a 'power pose.' These exercises can help build your confidence momentarily; now stride into the meeting with your head high and try to hold on to that sense of confidence and power.
Be assertive in your personal life
Jim Hjort, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of the Right Life Project, said. “Being assertive is the ability to communicate your needs and desires in a healthy way. That is, while remaining aware that you aren't the only person with needs and desires. Being assertive can reduce conflict, build self-confidence, and improve relationships at home and at work.”
Hjort’s tips on how to be more assertive include:
- Make a decision to express your thoughts and desires instead of being passive and just hoping for the best.
- Keep lines of communication open. Discuss your feelings, emotions, and beliefs without disparaging others' way of thinking.
- Listen to others without interrupting. Get all of the facts before stating your opinion and be clear and honest in your response.
- Don’t send people on guilt trips. Don’t make others feel guilty if they don’t agree with you. It's better if people willingly agree with you and, if they can't or won't, then sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.
- Keep calm. Don’t let a conversation escalate to screaming and yelling. Take a deep breath and think before you speak, with a respectful tone. Focus on expressing your own issues and feelings using “I” statements, and clarifying your understanding of the other person's, rather than jumping to conclusions or putting words into the other person's mouth.
- Practice. Use a mirror to project a positive image. Pay attention to your body language when standing and sitting. Record your voice when you speak. Note the tone you use when you’re frustrated, angry, or upset. Get in touch with what others see and hear when they communicate with you
- Avoid the extremes. Avoid making blame statements like “you always” or “you never.” People rarely always or never do anything and, besides, taking ownership of your own thoughts and feelings is likely to yield a more productive dialogue.