5 ways to be more assertive

Stephen Humphreys, General Manager at online learning specialists, GoodHabitz, discusses how leaders and potential leaders can cultivate assertiveness skills.

Assertiveness is a crucial personal skill to have in all aspects of your life and if you want to get ahead as a business owner, it is absolutely vital.

Can you say no without feeling guilty? Can you comfortably speak your mind and set personal boundaries with others? This is the secret to being assertive, standing up for yourself and your opinion in any situation – without feeling awkward about it.  The clearer you are in your own mind about what you want and where your boundaries lie, the easier it then becomes communicate this to others.

Being assertive doesn’t mean treading over other people though. That’s ruthlessness and it’s not a positive trait to cultivate for long term success.  Instead, being assertive is all about finding a balance, acting with respect for your own goals and those of others. Assertive people are sure footed and self-assured. They know how to protect their boundaries and are able to stand up for themselves without being aggressive or domineering. So, what can you do to become more assertive?

First of all, get comfortable with asking people for things. Did you grow up with the household mantra ‘I want doesn’t get?’ It’s one of the most negative things you can say to a child.  Re-frame your thinking to: ‘Ask in the right way and I want does get’ and keep reminding yourself of that. It’s a fact. If you are proactive and express what you want to others, you will increase your chances of getting it. Sounds easy in principle but speaking up for yourself and what you want is incredibly difficult for some people.

According to Alberti and Emmons, the authors of “Your Perfect Right”, there are three main obstacles to being assertive.  Firstly, people (mistakenly) believe they have no right to behave this way – parental conditioning comes into play here.  Secondly, they are afraid of the potential consequences and, thirdly, they don’t have the communication skills to express themselves clearly.

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned and here are 5 tips to getting started.

  1. Start small

Being assertive is directly linked to your levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. If this is an issue, take things one step at a time and make small changes to the way you operate. For instance, if you are at a conference or industry event, sit right at the front of the seminar room and engage with someone you don’t know as a networking opportunity. It will give you a confidence boost.

In business conversations, think about the type of language you usually use. Rather than saying ‘It’s out of my hands’, say ‘I’ll look into alternatives’ instead. Use phrases like ‘I’d prefer’ to voice your opinions more and start to bring your own intentions to the table. Improve your assertiveness bit by bit, and keep growing until you’ve achieved the right level.


  1. Just Say ‘No’

Do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’?  Saying no is difficult for a lot of people, so they often keep quiet and hope the issue goes away. Or they use excuses rather than being forthright, like: “There’s this job I really have to finish.”

Part of assertiveness is feeling comfortable about saying ‘no’ when that’s what you feel on the inside and being confident about your own decision making. Most people fail to assert themselves because they think it will reduce conflict, but that’s just temporary state. Remind yourself that saying ‘no’ now is best because you are just postponing the inevitability in the end. So, you might as well be upfront straight away and avoid all that.


  1. Relax!

Assertive behaviour is sometimes accompanied by fear. It’s stressful to think about confronting someone, but that’s just a short-term view too.  When you’re about to have a difficult conversion, your heart starts racing. Try to relax, calm yourself with breathing techniques and gather your thoughts. Remind yourself of your goals, that you have the right to pursue what you want and your anxiety will automatically subside.


  1. Trust yourself and lose the guilt

After standing up for yourself and saying no, you can feel guilty sometimes. Or maybe you experience a sense of self-doubt. You’ve inconvenienced or confronted a colleague and this makes you ill at ease. Were you right to do that?

Try to let go of this guilty feeling. Why shouldn’t you have shared your perspective or intention? They could also have asserted themselves too, leaving you to negotiate an acceptable compromise solution together. As Emerson famously said, “self-trust is the first secret of success.”


  1. Protect and prepare

How often, when you end up in a situation you don’t want, is it because you yourself have been unclear of exactly what your goals were? Be proactive and take the initiative yourself for what you want to achieve, rather than leaving others to be in control. That is the key to being assertive – having a clear idea of what it is you want. Prepare by setting your intentions and rehearsing your responses, so you are well equipped to stand up for what you want to achieve.

The obvious benefit of being assertive is getting what you want. As Robert Bolton explains in his book, People Skills, assertive people tend to be happier as well.  Of course they are, because they are getting what they want!

Overall, they have a clear sense of personal responsibility, higher self-esteem, more solid relationships, which in turn means they face less stress and anxiety and so they are happier. Most importantly for entrepreneurs, being assertive also means other people know where they stand with you – that’s a fundamental part of being a good business leader!