It pays to be assertive not bossy

One of my favourite memes is of a little girl who has a boy pinned against a fence with the caption, “I’m not bossy, I just have strong leadership skills”. So how can you be assertive without being perceived as bossy or aggressive?

Being assertive is an interpersonal skill that demonstrates a healthy self-confidence. It  enables us to stand up for ourselves and our rights.

By being direct and honest with people, by speaking up when something is bothering us, we will benefit from:

  • improved relationships because we have shared our needs
  • less stress and resentment by being able to say no to unreasonable demands
  • increased confidence by being in control of our own decisions.

Assertiveness allows us to confidently question the financial and lifestyle advice we receive, especially as we head into retirement. Difficult conversations can cause stress, which is exactly why we try to avoid such interactions in the first place.

If you feel you are inclined to be a little passive and would benefit from becoming more assertive, the following tips may help.

Start small.

Begin in a low-risk situation such as a discussion about which movie to see with a friend. If you typically defer to your friend’s suggestion, take the initiative and say what you would prefer to see.

Say no more often.

If you find yourself shuffling appointments around in your schedule to fit in with other people’s requests for your time, try offering a firm no. There is no need to justify yourself, apologise or feel guilty, a polite “sorry but I’m not free” will suffice.

Use ‘I’ statements.

Aggressive language such as “you never” or “you always” won’t help you get what you need or want. Statements that include ‘I’ in them such as ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’ will be more successful.

Be simple and direct.

There is no need to offer long-winded explanations for what you are asking for.

Stay cool.

Try not to become defensive if someone disapproves or disagrees with you. Breathe normally, speak in a normal, relaxed voice while looking the person you are dealing with in the eye.

Actively listen.

Don’t interrupt the other person’s explanation and try to understand their point of view. Agree to disagree if you have a different point of view.

Be honest.

Tell others how you feel or what you want without making them or yourself feel guilty.

Here are some questions you may want to consider before choosing to be assertive. They can be found in the book, Your Perfect Right, by Dr Robert Alberti and Michael Emmons.

  • How much does it matter to you?
  • Are you looking for a specific outcome or just to express yourself?
  • Are you looking for a positive outcome? Might asserting yourself make things worse?
  • Will you kick yourself if you don’t take action?
  • What are the probable consequences and realistic risks from your possible assertion?

What strategies do you use when standing up for your rights? Do you analyse your own behaviour and wish you’d either said something or said nothing?

Written by Andrea


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