When I first started working for myself, I had a big problem with assertiveness. And when I say big, I mean HUGE. In fact, one of my earliest clients offered me a writing job that would pay me a meager $5 for an hour’s worth of time. And you know what? I took it. Why? Because I didn’t want to stand up for myself and possibly risk losing the work.
Plus, I struggled with the idea of being assertive, as I had always looked at assertiveness as a not so positive trait. Sure, it’s good to go after what you want and stick up for what you believe is right, but even the definition of assertive—“confidently aggressive or self-assured”—has a negative connotation to it.
Besides, after coming from 15 years of police-related work, I’ve seen aggression and that is not how I want my clients, colleagues, or anyone else for that matter to see me. No, I want to be what I refer to as “professionally assertive.”
What is “Professional Assertiveness”?
To me, professional assertiveness is being confident and self-assured without the need for being aggressive or in other people’s faces. It involves having a level of politeness and respect for others I do business with, but drawing the line clearly so that everyone involved is aware of where it is. It means setting boundaries and enforcing them in a way that says, “I will not tolerate anyone walking all over me, but I know how to handle these types of situation in a way that is professional and fair.”
Professional assertiveness is also not being passive by actually saying what it is you want. It requires that you have a voice and that you use it. Not in a loud, demanding way, but rather in a manner that is calm, in control, and rooted in logic.
5 Tips to Becoming Professionally Assertive
So, how do you become professionally assertive? Fortunately there are many options. To find that comfortable place where you feel confident without feeling hostile, here are five tips to consider:
- Remember that you deserve to be happy too. As PsychCentral says, “Being assertive can be tough – especially if you’ve been passive or a people pleaser most of your life.” So, you have to get over the guilt that comes with standing up for yourself. One way to do that is to remember that you deserve to be happy, just like everyone else. Additionally, you aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness. They have to work on that themselves.
- Develop a “me first” mantra. Putting others needs before your own isn’t exactly a bad quality, and sometimes it’s even a necessity (think sick kids or aging parents who need additional care). But doing this on a constant basis, regardless of the effect it has on you, not only puts you last on your own list of priorities, but it also gives others the opportunity to take advantage of you. Instead, come up with a mantra that reminds you to put yourself first, such as “I can only do what I can do, but I must take care of myself first.” That isn’t being selfish; it’s called being smart.
- Find a way to express your emotions. Perhaps the hardest thing about being assertive is that you have to find a way to say when you feel let down, hurt, walked on, or taken advantage of without being considered a jerk. The key to doing this is to focus on how you’re feeling versus the actual actions taken against you. The reason for this is simple: The more you point your finger at an offender, the more he or she will likely defend their position. However, when you are pointing the finger at yourself saying “I feel this” or “I feel that,” there is less of a need to be defensive and they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.
- Use your body language to help you become more professionally assertive. If you struggle with expressing your emotions verbally, the Mayo Clinic reinforces that body language is another tool you can use. Essentially, you want to have a confidence-projecting posture which means standing up straight with a slight forward lean, keeping eye contact, and avoiding negative facial expressions. This type of stance tells those around you that you are self-assured, potentially reducing the risk that they will even try to test your boundaries.
- Curb your urge to be impulsive. One of the top things that has helped me become professionally assertive is that I have worked hard to curb my urge to be impulsive. The old me was willing to do anything to make other people’s lives instantly easier, even if it meant that mine became harder. Now, instead of trying to ease someone else’s problems the minute they arise, I take the time to think through my response. If it is right, I step in and lend a hand. And if I feel that the lesson that they could learn from the situation might make them stronger, I stand back and let them learn it. Just like I’ve had to do.
If you’re like I used to be and struggle with being assertive, which one of these tips resonates with you most? I’d love to hear your input!
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