‘Speak Up’ – 5 Ways To Be More Assertive

Do you find it difficult to say no to your overbearing classmate? Do you find it difficult to speak to your professor/boss? Are you often overburdened with work because you couldn’t say no? Do you find it difficult to speak to a perfect stranger? Have you ever just done something because you couldn’t find a way to decline? Have you, in general, faced difficulty standing up for what you believe in? If you have answered yes to any of the questions above then you should read further.

I was a class representative for two years of my master’s course. It may not seem like a big deal or something that would require a lot of work. But it was. And when I look back at it, it could have been easier. But I couldn’t really say no. To anything. Get notes for my fellow classmates? Check. Call teachers to make sure they’re up? Check. See if classrooms are available for the lectures? Check. Get the notes from the xerox guy? Check. Everything that encompassed the duties of the CR and beyond was something that I did on a daily basis for two years. I just couldn’t say no to anyone. I couldn’t even delegate any of the work to my classmates. That would have been the rational thing to do. And it wasn’t like I am a control freak so I needed to do all of it by myself. But I just didn’t know how to ask others to do it. So as with anything I want to improve on, I read about it. And I realised that the problem was with my level of assertiveness.

Assertiveness is based on the principle of balance. A balance between aggression and passivity. Assertiveness is the winning attitude. It is to identify what you want, need and how you can get it in the best way and the most respectful way possible. It is a sub-skill required for effective interpersonal skills and the basis of negotiation skills. Human rights suggest that each and every person is entitled to express his/her thoughts, wishes, and opinions. But how do you do that if you don’t know how to? Read on to know more about assertiveness techniques and approaches:


    1. Broken Record: Say it. Repeat it. Keep repeating it. Say it like a broken record, literally. Repeat what you want to say without getting annoyed, irritated or raising your voice. Exactly like how a broken record would play. Do this until the other person understands that you aren’t going to change your mind. I know, it is easier said than done. Thoughts like – ‘I couldn’t even say it once, how do you expect me to say it repeatedly’ will come to your mind. What you can do in that case is try the broken record technique internally first – Rehearse.
    2. Include an explanation: A direct ‘no’ can be harsh. You need to try and minimize the impact of your ‘no’. Show your interest before you say no and then include your commitment that you’ve made to others or a reason as to why you can’t do it. For example, ‘I would love to help you with the project but I already agreed to help so and so and I can’t ditch them.’ A simple explanation as that is all you need to lower the blow of your ‘no’. It seems well thought out, less rude and unselfish.
    3. Positive or Negative Enquiry: Being assertive is more than just saying ‘no’. It is to acknowledge and to respond appropriately. It also includes receiving compliments and criticism with grace. Many of us, including me, feel awkward receiving a compliment and defensive when handling criticism. To counter this, end your responses with a question. Sounds simple enough, right? But what it does is it refrains you from being defensive and aggressive of the criticism you received and helps you gain an in-depth feedback of your appraisal. For example, if you received a compliment of doing a great job at your work project, an appropriate response with positive enquiry would be – ‘Thanks, what aspect of the project did you like the most?’ or if you received a criticism on doing a poor job, your response could be – ‘I agree that it’s not one of my best work. What is it that you think I could do differently?’ So here, instead of being either passive or aggressive, you strike a balance of assertiveness just by asking questions.
    4. Don’t be impulsive: What’s the connection between being impulsive and assertive? When asked a question, if you are impulsive, your automated response could be to say ‘yes’. But stop! Instead of saying yes immediately, say you’d think about it. This buys you time to really think about what is asked of you and whether you can deliver it to the best of your capabilities or not. A good way to delay the answer immediately is to ask questions about it. It gives you enough time to weigh the pros and cons of saying yes and no. Also, an instant no is also a no-no. It may make you appear to be cold, selfish and inconsiderate. And you want to be assertive, not the things mentioned above. Give it a genuine thought and use point two to reason your respond if it is no.
    5. Modeling: Modeling is an age-old technique used to shape any sort of behaviour. Children often learn to behave using this very method. And all you need for this technique is a role model. Find the most assertive person you know, observe them, see what kind of body language do they have (yes, body language is an important part of assertiveness) and look out for the kind of words they use while saying something assertively. Finally, try to mimic them. Try to emulate their behaviour and the manner of speaking in front of a mirror first. It may seem a bit unnatural but the more you mimic, the more natural it will feel after a while.

Before taking into consideration any techniques to improve on your assertiveness, it is essential to remember that you are your own person and you have the right to say ‘no’. Let go of the guilt that is associated with saying ‘no’. Also, let go of the FOMO (fear of missing out). Lastly, remember that being assertive is not what you do but it has to be what you are.