Being assertive is not about confrontations and arguments, it’s about being open and honest, and it can also help to lower our stress levels

Assertiveness is something that makes many people uncomfortable. We often mistake it for confrontation, and worry that we’ll be seen as argumentative or awkward.

But in our current world, the constant news cycle often creates situations where we want to disagree with someone, yet can be afraid of a simple point turning into a big argument. At work, we fear if we say ‘no’ to something, we’ll be treated less favourably. With friends and relationships, we want to please everyone, and keep the peace. In the end, no one likes to be disliked.

Real assertiveness isn’t any of this. It’s about being open and honest, and expressing our feelings and opinions calmly and sensitively. In fact, being assertive is good for you. It lowers your stress levels, and it helps you gain self-confidence and self-esteem.

Instead of shying away from a comment that’s bugging you, assertiveness can help you to understand and recognise your feelings. Being assertive can also help us express our feelings on issues we’re passionate about. It helps us create honest relationships – and an honest relationship is a healthy one. Ultimately, it allows us to become better communicators with everyone in our lives.

With all that in mind, there’s no doubt assertiveness is beneficial to our overall wellbeing. Here are five top tips that can put you on track to expressing yourself assertively.

Woman speaking in a group of people

Practise saying ‘no’

This isn’t about just saying the word ‘no’. Often it’s about phrasing a ‘no’ answer sensitively. It’s always good to start with a positive, such as: ‘Thanks for inviting me’ or, ‘Thank you for considering me.’ This shows you appreciate, or have understood, the request. What can be offered to that person instead? Maybe you’ve been asked to help someone out, but that day doesn’t work for you? Suggest another time, or offer something that you can do. Saying ‘no’ is being true to ourselves, and to our own feelings.

Actively listen

If we really hear what a person is telling us, then we’re able to formulate a more articulate and informed answer.

When someone makes a statement we disagree with, it can be easy to jump to conclusions, stop listening, or just barge in with our opinion. When we allow the person to explain their stance, they feel they have been listened to, and are more likely to be receptive when we question them. Begin a response by stating what they’ve said, or how they’re feeling, and then we can talk about our own opinion.

Change your perspective

Confrontation is often something we find difficult. If we challenge the way we look at a situation, it can help us shift our perspective. If we look at it as a debate, or a difference in opinion, then we’re less likely to see it as escalating. We also know that expressing ourselves will relieve stress, and will often resolve a problem – so we should tell ourselves this.

Being assertive is sometimes knowing when to pick our battles, and when to compromise

Catastrophising – where we always think the worst outcome will happen – can hinder us, however. It’s helpful at this point to ask ourselves a few questions: Are our thoughts about what could happen realistic? How likely is it to happen, or actually be true? Is there a similar situation we can think of where everything was OK?

Learn to compromise

Sometimes it helps to reserve a ‘no’ answer for something that isn’t possible for us, or we’re not comfortable with. Coming to a compromise, especially in relationships, often keeps both parties happy.

Of course, it’s possible to express our feelings and to come to a compromise. It’s important to be able to state our opinion and move on, by suggesting something both sides are comfortable with. Being assertive is sometimes knowing when to pick our battles, and when to compromise.

Staying quiet

This might sound strange on a list about assertiveness, but staying quiet in some situations is the best option. We’ve all been in conversations at a party, or in a meeting, when a subject comes up that we deeply disagree with. We often feel the compulsion to agree or stay neutral when the majority of a group are agreeing.

Saying nothing might not feel assertive, but it’s a way of demonstrating to ourselves that we don’t have to agree with everything being said, just to keep the peace.

Assertiveness can build our confidence and the more we assert ourselves, the easier it becomes!