1. Practice being transparent and authentic.
It might be difficult at times, but if you learn to express yourself openly and honestly, it will feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. So often, we hide behind a halfhearted smile and nod instead of saying what we think. It takes practice, but learning to be authentic and open about what you are feeling or thinking is the first step. Once you get in the habit of making yourself heard without being overly accommodating or defensive, people will be more open to hearing you.
2. Take small but powerful steps.
If you are struggling with being assertive, start taking small steps to stand up for yourself. Even just learning to walk more confidently—head held high, shoulders back—will help you appear and feel more confident. Channel that confidence when dealing with others. This attitude can apply to all areas of your life. Feeling annoyed at the person who cut in front of you at Starbucks? Politely ask them to move to the back. See an unfair charge on a bill from one of your service providers? Call and dispute it.
3. When someone attacks, wait them out.
As you grow more confident in expressing yourself, you’re also going to have to learn to face those who want to override you. There will always be people whose personalities are set to attack mode. It’s important that you remain calm but assertive if you feel like someone is trying to bully you. Don’t allow yourself to get frazzled or react with low blows. Don’t cater to them or allow them to browbeat you either. Walk the high road but stand your ground.
4. Figure out what’s really bothering you.
Going with the flow for the purposes of not making waves actually creates more stress and anxiety for yourself. Of course, mustering the courage to face something or someone that is bothering you can feel scary. But facing the issue will empower you to make it better and diminishes the control it has over you. Remember, people can’t read your mind; if you don’t vocalize what is bothering you, no one will know.
5. Clarify first, without attacking.
It’s tempting to take a self-righteous stand, especially if you are sure you are in the right. From your viewpoint, you are justifiably defending yourself against someone who seems to be entirely in the wrong. But it’s important to resist the urge to react with emotion. Instead, take a breath and calmly explain your perspective to them. Avoid combative tones or accusatory words. Clarify exactly what you mean and listen to their response. Only then can a real discussion begin to take place.
6. Practice makes perfect.
Once you start getting the hang of what it means to stand up for yourself, it’s time to practice asking for what you want as often as possible. When someone says something you openly disagree with, or you feel pushed into doing something you don’t want to do, say something. Research shows that it takes 66 days to form a new habit, so stick with the new assertiveness for two months and you might be surprised by the results.
7. Be deliberate.
Here’s a situation that many of us have found ourselves in: sharing space with a messy co-worker or a roommate who is a slob. You might have remained silent while growing more aggravated at the situation. It might be tempting to slip into passive-aggressive behavior, such as angrily cleaning up the mess or making snide comments. Try being deliberate instead. Tell the person how you are feeling without being accusatory. Be straightforward with your concerns. Follow up with a simple suggestion that can correct the situation, such as: “If you can take a minute to tidy up your space at night, it would be a big help.”
8. Stand up for your time.
Time is a precious and limited commodity, and yet we often feel pressured to give it away when we have the ability to say no. There are times when you might not have a choice, such as when your boss says a project has high priority. But don’t let obligations dictate how you spend the hours of your day. You are in control of your own time. Push back when it’s appropriate, or tactfully disengage from those people or situations that submerge your schedule.
9. Recognize that no one can invalidate you.
You are in complete ownership of your feelings and actions. Your beliefs, emotions, thoughts and ideas belong to you, and no one else can tell you what you feel or invalidate your opinions. Likewise, if you seek to invalidate other people’s points of view, you are also sabotaging any chance for problem-solving or having an open discussion.
10. Fake it till you make it.
Learning to stand up for yourself won’t happen overnight. It takes time to grow comfortable with being assertive. While you are in the learning stage, it might help to imagine that you are an actor learning to play a new role.
Imagine that you are the most assertive person you know. How would they handle themselves in a difficult situation? There might be times when you swing from being overly zealous to being too indecisive. Learning to stand up for yourself is like riding a bike: Eventually, you will find the right balance.