Are You Assertive Enough?

Apr 05

Ever felt awful because you should have, could have, would have done or said something, but did not? Do you have a problem asserting yourself when the circumstances call for it? If you said yes, you are definitely not alone.  
Even the most confident person faces a situation or two where the will to be assertive is present, yet the moment passes and it does not happen. 
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“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” – Anthony Robbins (Tweet this quote)
Take, for example, my son Vidur.  A few years ago, the moment someone raised their voice at him, he would freeze. Literally. Words he wanted to say never left his tongue. It was like a shadow has been cast and he was in a trance. It was crazy how this happened with his peers as well as his teachers and other adults. He also put up with bullying for a while. It drove me mad when he said “I meant to say this, but…” and “I tried to do this, but….”.  Of course I hugged him – but also made him realize that while we can’t control or predict the way people behave, we can certainly control the way we behave. I would tell him stories to encourage him. I was grateful to see the slow but sure positive transformation in him. Today he’s a cool guy, a confident and happy 14-year old. Pleasant, polite, still somewhat nice to a fault and gets along with everyone.  Most importantly, he can stand up for himself.
I went through this, too. 
Many years ago. It is not like I am usually intimidated by people, but for a short phase when I switched from advertising to hard core sales, in a tough industry, I handled Government Accounts. And boy, did they freak me out. I remember I used to feel embarrassed about my appearance – most people assumed I was too young to be in that job as a Regional head AND I was a woman. So double whammy, imagine!. The so-called “bigshots” would not take me seriously and call my boss to reconfirm everything. 
Of course, my boss was a really decent guy who would categorically state that I was authorized to represent the company. Yet – what with gender discrimination and my appearance (I was skinny and of average height) – I have to admit that there were days I returned to my office feeling quite depressed. I would have a tough time controlling myself from bursting out crying at times, out of  sheer frustration. Some of these guys wouldn’t even allow me to speak – they’d just brush off what I said or pretend to distracted.
You know what made me angry? I was bugged that I let people make me feel that way. As I saw it, only I could make a difference to the way I felt. 
Right? Right!
Like regret, “could have”, “would have” and “should have” are three lousy phrases that haunt you when you do not stand up for yourself. And your family and friends are there to remind you to be more bold, more brave and more – yes – assertive. Heck, there are always people to tell you what you should have or could have done. 
What does being assertive involve?
Being assertive involves feeling positive about yourself and communicating your thoughts, feelings and desires confidently, directly and clearly to others in a decent way. With respect and without being afraid of the outcome. This does not come easy for those who tend to get all worked up emotionally. The thing is, confrontation scares them and they become passive – wishing the situation will resolve itself magically without any effort from their side. 
If only.
I know from personal experience that being assertive is an essential skill in life. We need to speak up at work, to tackle our responsibilities, to get along with our co-workers, enjoy our friendships –  any relationship. Just some of the benefits of being assertive are:

  • Better communication
  • Greater confidence 
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Smarter decision-making
  • More respect from others
  • Closer alignment with beliefs and goals

Who doesn’t want all that?
Being assertive gives us the strength to resist negativity and hurt. We are able to think for ourselves. We have the confidence to ask for what we want. We can speak up to protect ourselves and those we love and care for.  Remember that lovely song by Bob Marley that goes:
“Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up
Don’t give up the fight.”
You know you need to be more assertive when you are unhappy with the way your professional or personal life are going and you are not satisfied with the way things turn out. Some common indications that you need to work on being assertive are:

  • You walk off from situations, regretting not saying something
  • You quit conversations, wishing you had spoken up
  • You feel guilty about letting an opportunity slip away because you kept quiet
  • You sit frozen when someone steals your idea 
  • A fear of failure
  • Your relationship breaks up because you didn’t speak up
  • You get roped in to do something you despise because you didn’t have the guts to say no.

That list could really go on and on. So being assertive is could also relate to your communication – your ability to say no – and not saying something when you should have said it.
You really don’t have to go through any of the above.  Luckily, I quickly realized this when things got too unbearable. 
I had a friend who was a great pep-talker – she basically could not believe that I actually went through all that. Me – with the sunny disposition who made people laugh and never hesitated to speak out – being non-assertive? Impossible. NOT.  So we came up with imaginary situations – and discussed ways to handle them. That was fun between the two of us because we would image the most bizarre stuff and many, many disrespectful and violent ways to deal with them. The sense of humor certainly helped. And things got better.  
My Mom was my coach – she was a great one – amazingly proactive. With her, to think was to act. She never let the grass grow under her feet. With all the motivation and encouragement I got, I quickly got over my temporary weakness and life was good. Credit also goes to the fantastic training programs I attended that taught “assertiveness” as a special topic.
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You can learn to be assertive 
Of course you can.  Here’s what helped me tackle  a situation where I had to  say or do something:

  • Being aware of my expectations from the situation
  • Practicing when I was comfortable and felt in control over my emotions
  • Rehearsing my lines (it is okay to act. Life IS a stage, you know)
  • Practicing a confident posture. Being slumped does not help.  
  • Starting my statements with “I” when I needed to express my feelings. Not “you, blah blah blah” in a complaining way  
  • Being honest about my intentions and feelings
  • Letting go of limiting beliefs
  • If there were unreasonable requests, saying NO without apologies
  • Not being afraid of displeasing something by saying something they don’t want to hear
  • By maintaining a positive attitude
Okay, so maybe being assertive won’t get you what you want every single time. But it will certainly make you feel good about yourself.  And that’s really what is important, no? You will also stop feeling stressed out over situations that used to freak you out.  And that’s good too.  As we go through life, people WILL make us feel bad. Only we have the power not to allow it to affect us. Because we have a choice.
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Here’s my haiku for you:

Be true to yourself.
No one else will. Love yourself
Let your light shine through

Have you faced situations when you wished you had been more assertive? What happened?

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Cheers!

Vidya

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28 comments

  1. Oh yes, more times than I can count. Do you find that you can be amazingly assertive in some contexts and not at all in others? As a lawyer, I was a strong advocate for my clients and never felt intimidated. I have always been a strong advocate for my children, especially my two sons with autism. But I have failed many times to stand up for myself. I think I have gotten better about that as I’ve gotten older, but I could have saved myself a lot of pain and loss by learning this earlier!

    • Yes, Galen, I go through that too – when it is someone else, my family, my friends, I am the regular tigress. For me – I don’t always do as I should. But like you, I am much better now :-) Thank you so much for visiting!

  2. There is a fine line between being confident and being assertive. A short time ago, I was not too assertive for myself but I certainly was when I needed to be an advocate for my kids! Now, thanks to that, I learned how to do it for myself, while still being polite and nice, too!

    Love your post Vidya!! Love your quotes, images and haiku, too.

    • Thank you, dearest Betsy! Being assertive for others is what gave me the strength to be assertive for myself. Some people mistake aggression for assertiveness – and that becomes a whole new situation to tackle!

      :D Thank you for your wise words.

  3. Hi Vidya. Excellent, informative post! Hard to believe, but I most definitely have assertiveness issues. The problem is directly related to my self-confidence, or lack thereof. When I’m feeling good about myself, I am able to direct my assertiveness properly and make it work for me. When my self-confidence wans, any effective assertiveness goes out the door and sometimes it all spirals downward. Something I definitely need to work. Thank you for addressing this important subject. Keep these helpful posts coming, my friend! I shall glean much from your wisdom!
    Hugs,
    Terri

    • Dear Terri – I hear you. I have the same problem and am slowly overcoming it. My assertiveness is often directly proportional to my self-confidence. Mood also has a big role to play as do the circumstances. I was lucky to have my Mom push me – She was a terrific teacher after all. I am trying my best to teach Vidur to be assertive. I realized also that I too learn from topics like this and am able to relate them to events in my life – and it is a joy to share it with everyone. Hugs to you – and thank you for appreciating me. It is very important to me. Love ya!

  4. Ultimately, we teach people how to treat us. Having self-confidence in order to exert assertiveness is essential.

    It sounds like you did a magnificent job in an incredibly tough situation with your old job. Kuddos to you!

    I’ve found that the older I get and the more comfortable I am with myself, the easier it is for me to speak my mind (in a constructive way) without being attached to the outcome and without worrying about what everyone will think.

    This is a great post with some terrific ideas for asserting ourselves more effectively. Thanks dear sister!!

    • Dearest Paige – at the time, it did not seem so easy. It was downright depressing. I really had to pump myself up with the will to go to work some days. But as Dora the Explorer says – We did it! (we, because I could not have done it alone so soon).

      I agree with you about assertiveness getting easier as we grow older. I think past experiences also teach us that situations are tackle-able and also, we worry less about the impression we might make with our actions.

      Thank you for your comment. I love it.

  5. This is so valuable to me. Thank you so much for writing this. I am not assertive. Nope. Never. I was verbally abused as a child and I really think that it scared me into not speaking up.
    I am getting better though.
    I remember the first time I used my assertiveness. It was when I was working in the ER. I did not agree with what the attending had ordered and I calmly said so. He jumped right in my face (because we all know the complexes some doctors have) and I calmly told him that I wasn’t doing that. While he flipped his lid I called his superior.
    I was never so proud of myself in my entire life up until that point.

    • Ah, Kim – I know the joy of sticking up for someone! I feel proud of you, too. I think you’re assertive by the way you write so beautifully. :-) – there’s a quiet kind of “assertive”, too, you know? The gentle voice that achieves things without being forceful. Like your voice.

      Hugs! And by the way – I think when we become Mommies, assertiveness grows on steroids :D That’s good enough!

  6. Your post is bang on, Vidya! The difference between success and failure can largely be due to communication skills , primarily, assertiveness!

  7. Wonderful post Vidya!

    Yes, most of us aren’t really as assertive as we would like or want to be, which does make us feel sorry for our state, though it’s too late by then.

    I think such situations happen with many people. Just as your son, my elder daughter was like that for quite sometime, till I had to drill this feeling out of her mind, which takes time – and now she’s absolutely good and confident. Happened with me too when I was sent to live in my college hostel and had to do things myself! It took me nearly two months settling down and really learning my way about confidently. I guess the fear of what people may think of you, or of failure, or of not doing it right bothers most of us.

    Kids do undergo such moments more I think that could be related to their past experiences, which they may have had at home, school, or at someones place. They may not have realized the effect till much later, or sometimes only parents realize their lack of confidence, or fear, or non- assertiveness and need to take steps for getting them back on track.

    I can well understand all that you underwent too, and especially when peers and family want you to fight back or be brave is worse. I guess no one really understand what you undergo, other than yourself. Nor do they realize that things take time, and what siutation you are in and how best to deal with things, no one would know better than you.

    Nice to learn about your mom being your coach who helped and pulled you out of your fears, which made you more assertive. Loved the tips you shared about how you can learn to be assertive, a great source for those who face this problem.

    What matters most is feeling good about yourself, and if you feel that by being assertive you become more confident, then you should take the required steps and get moving.

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful post. :)

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Harleena. Being assertive in the situations that really matter is important. The rest of the time, it is practice :-)

  8. ah..it has happened with me many times…in many situations and every where..but time it is time decreasing….and reading these kind of posts making me towards assertiveness…thanks:):):)

    • Hi Chetan! I think most of us suffer from not being assertive enough all the time – only some people are great at it. Circumstances shape us – and as my friend Paige said above, we get better at it as we grow older. :-) Thank you for your comment!

  9. My Inner Chick /

    You Rock With Wisdom, Love, Kindness & Compassion, Sweet Woman.

    H A P P Y
    E A S T ER !

    XX Love Love Love. <3

    btw, I am not as assertive as I should be, but I’m trying…

    • Kim dearest! Hugs. Happy Easter to you, too. I like to think am assertive – and I know I am improving….I believe our kids helps us in a big way, making us stronger. Love ya.

  10. ;o) ONe thing I’ve never had a problem with is being assertive! Love this post!! LOVE!

    • :D Sheila, I believe you. I love it! It shines through in your writing – and that’s why I told you I prefer to read you for inspiration ;-). Hugs!

  11. No better place to practice assertiveness than while bazaar or night market shopping. Or when purchasing a car or dealing with anyone on the other side of the sales counter, Vidya. Those are situations that can bring out our rawest emotions lol and inspire us to be more assertive than we have ever been in our life!

    • Hi Vishnu – You’re right – about the bazaar experience. Non-intimidating situations easy to practice in. I had an aunt who was quite cute – when the vendors said Rs.x – she would authoritatively say she would pay Rs.x+1 – and shock them. Thanks for coming by!

  12. Hi Vidya,

    Wonderful post and lots of brilliant advice.

    You really are inspirational. You used to work in an obviously demanding industry and being a woman had to face gender prejudices. And you came out the other end on top!

    Lack of assertiveness is something I know about and I had to do a lot of work in this area. I still do.

    What I find quite powerful is to start off sentences with the words “I believe…”. I find I feel assertive when communicating using such words and others take what I’m saying seriously as well.

    • Thank you, Hiten! During our training sessions we would practice a lot of affirmation statements starting with “I Believe” – and that really works! :-) Thanks for your valuable input!

  13. I let a lot of things go, but when it really matters I have no problem being assertive. It does no one any good to shrink oneself.

    • “to shrink oneself” – I love that phrase, Unknown Mami – because that’s literally what we do inside when we do not speak up. Thank you!

  14. Assertiveness is an important and useful skill to develop. It is something that if you use appropriately will serve you well.