Making decisions isn’t one of my strengths. My default social response has always been to ‘go with the flow’. Laidback and easygoing are descriptors that repeatedly crop up in my performance reviews and school reports.
As a self-proclaimed introvert, I’m also mildly allergic to confrontation. When disagreement or conflicts arise, recoiling into my people-pleasing shell is how I tend to respond.
But, this year I’m on a mission to change that. Having the confidence to state your opinion, share your thoughts openly and accept disagreement are essential life skills that foster healthy relationships. Here, learn four simple hacks for becoming more assertive and holding your own in your next difficult conversation.
1. Use “I” Statements To Explain How You Feel
Being assertive doesn’t mean shouting matches and flared tempers. In fact, the best examples of assertive communication avoid aggression altogether.
How? By using careful language to drive the conversation. When you want to firmly state your opinion on a subject, consider using phrases like “I think” or “I feel” to get your point across. Avoid using aggressive language such as “You always” or “you never” that can make others feel attacked and defensive.
Explaining how a situation makes you feel can be a powerful method of asserting yourself without fear of upsetting or aggravating those around you.
2. Don’t Expect To Always Reach An Agreement
Conflict often makes us see situations in black and white. When we don’t see eye-to-eye, it can seem as if we are ‘right’ and the other person is ‘wrong’. However, opinions and beliefs are much more nuanced than that.
Having to assert conversations is all about having the assurance to disagree. If someone else doesn’t agree with your point of view, it’s important to try and see their side of things. Listen carefully to what they have to say, and don’t be afraid to offer you counter-view on the topic.
In most cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to ‘agree to disagree’. In fact, having a unique point of view can enrich the conversation and your relationships with those around you.
3. Be Prepared To Stand By Your Opinions
Honesty is an attribute that’s universally respected. But in order to act with honesty, we have to share how we truly think and feel about situations. Sharing your opinion is, therefore, crucial to having an assertive conversation.
Start small with easy topics like your favorite film or your go-to spot for a great coffee. When someone asks for your opinion on the topic, be honest and provide a clear, genuine answer. From there, you can start to tackle more complex conversations. The key is to keep practicing, all while understanding that not everyone will share your opinions.
A great way to handle disagreement is to practice active listening. If someone disagrees with your opinion, try to understand their point of view. What is their reasoning for their choice? Are there experiences different to yours? Can you still find any common ground?
Be patient and remember that your views are valid and worth sharing with others.
4. Learn How To Say “No”
We can’t talk about assertiveness without discussing boundaries. And for those of us who struggle to have an assertive conversation, this one can prove mighty challenging.
Feeling the obligation to please others and overcommit ourselves in our work and personal lives can cause stress, anxiety and a sense of depletion. When we put the needs of others before our own, we run the risk of burning out and losing out on much-needed self-care time.
Saying ‘no’ is one of the most powerful ways we can advocate for our own self-worth. For those who experience guilt when turning down opportunities or invites, practicing this skill will help build confidence and resilience. Be firm and clear in your response, and avoid leaving windows of opportunity open with phrases such as “I might have time later” or “maybe we could try next week?” Unless you genuinely want to revisit the invitation, it’s best to establish clear boundaries from the beginning.