Confident woman

Insecure? Ways to Become More Assertive

In my last two blogs I invited you to learn more about insecurity in terms of its definition and types. I suggested to listen to your self-talk, noticing when your inner voice is unfairly critical, shaming or blaming and to appreciate how that can cause deep insecurities. I shared the Assertive Bill of Rights fom the classic book When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PhD.

An article online from the Mayo Clinic offers several recommendations for being more assertive:

  • Assess your style. Do you voice your opinions or remain silent? Do you say yes to additional work even when your schedule is full? Are you quick to judge or blame? Do people seem to dread or fear talking to you? Understand your style before you begin making changes.
  • Use ‘I’ statements. Using I-statements lets others know what you’re thinking or feeling without sounding accusatory. For instance, say, “I disagree,” rather than, “You’re wrong.” If you have a request, say, “I would like you to help with this” rather than, “You need to do this.” Keep your requests simple, specific and clear. See my earlier post for more specifics of this skill.
  • Practice saying no. If you have a hard time turning down requests, try saying, “No, I can’t do that now.” Remember that no is a complete sentence and you don’t need to explain why you choose to say no. Don’t hesitate — be direct. If an explanation is appropriate, keep it brief.
  • Rehearse what you want to say. If it’s challenging to say what you want or think, practice general scenarios you encounter. Say what you want to say out loud. It may help to write it out first so you can practice from a script. Consider role-playing with a friend or colleague and asking for clear feedback.
  • Use body language. Communication isn’t just verbal. Act confident even if you aren’t feeling it. Keep an upright posture but lean forward a bit. Make regular eye contact. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression. Don’t cross your arms or legs. Face the person. Practice assertive body language in front of a mirror. In addition to what you say, your body language and facial expressions are also important.
  • Keep emotions in check. Conflict is hard for most people. Maybe you get angry or frustrated, or maybe you feel like crying. Although these feelings are typical, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. If you feel too emotional going into a situation, wait a bit if possible. Then work on remaining calm. Breathe slowly. Keep your voice even and firm.
  • Start small. At first, practice your new skills in situations that are low risk. For instance, try out your assertiveness on a partner or friend before tackling a difficult situation at work. Evaluate yourself afterward and adjust your approach as needed.

A recent YouTube video entitled Assertiveness: Finding Your Voice and Managing Stress (When I say no, I Feel Guilty, Manuel J. Smith) provided the following two assertive techniques based on the work of Manuel J Smith, PhD:

The Broken Record Technique

This technique involves calmly and persistently repeating your request without becoming defensive or aggressive. It helps you convey your needs and concerns while staying focused and assertive while also respecting the other person’s perspective.

A friend of mine once used this when she was in line to pay for parking. There were many cars in front of her and by the time she got to the booth to pay, she was a minute over the time and was expected to pay an extra amount of money because of that. She decided to use the Broken Record technique and repeated to the attendant multiple times, “I have been in line waiting to pay for over 10 minutes. That put me over the amount of time I am being charged for. I expect to pay the lesser amount.” When the attendant first refused, she repeated the same statement and did so several times until he finally relinquished and charged her the lesser amount for her parking time. She never got angry, she remained calm, and was clear about her expectations.

A second technique: Fogging

This is used when you respond to criticism in a non-defensive manner, acknowledging some truths in the criticism and agreeing with the general principle behind it. This approach diffuses aggression and defensiveness, promotes open communication and shows that you are open to feedback.

For example, suppose a family member criticizes you for putting things in the recycle bin that the person believes the township does not consider recyclable. To use this technique, you might say something like, “I appreciate that you want to be sure we don’t have anything in our recycle bin that is not acceptable. I thought the information on the package stated it was okay to recycle it but maybe I need to check on that. I’m happy to call the township just to check with them. I appreciate you pointing this out to me.” It is likely the person will appreciate your willingness to consider what they said without continuing to be critical or even angry.

Much of assertiveness depends on the attitude one projects. Remaining calm, clear and confident, the three C’s of effective discipline, also promotes an assertive attitude.

Learning to project a more assertive attitude is an essential ingredient for reducing insecurity and promoting confidence. It takes a lot of practice and a degree of courage to risk possible criticism. It is easier to just succumb but that increases your belief that you are not as competent as others. You might find it helpful to picture having an invisible assertive hat that you put on when you are about to use some of these techniques. It can help to take a deep breath as you step into something new for you. After any assertive interchanges you may try, give yourself credit for your bravery, regardless of the outcome.

Invitation for Reflection:

  1. To what extent do you think you use some of the assertive techniques described in this blog? If so, what specifically did you do and say? How did the person on the receiving end respond?
  2. If you do not use any kind of assertive technique when in a situation where you are being criticized, attacked or even bullied, what did you notice about the interaction? How does this kind of interaction make you feel? Can you see how not being assertive might contribute to strong feelings of inadequacy and insecurity?
  3. What are you willing to commit to trying in the near future when an opportunity presents itself when being assertive would be a healthier response?