Everyone has found themselves in a situation where they’ve wanted to be more assertive, but for some reason, just couldn’t. Maybe you weren’t sure if you had enough authority to speak out, maybe there was a power dynamic present holding you back, or maybe you’re just someone who struggles with putting themselves out there. Regardless of the reason, we’ve all been there. The good news is there are some simple, easy steps you can take to become more assertive when the timing calls for it.
1. Dress the Part
How you present yourself is not only about the impressions you give other people, but also about the impressions you give yourself. Dressing the part is a huge part of feeling confident enough in yourself to be assertive when you need to be. Don’t show up to work with the same coffee-stained tie you wear every Monday. Match your shoes to your outfit. Button your blazer when standing and unbutton it when sitting. Don’t wear nylons that have a tear in them. No, not even if it’s a small tear — let’s face it, ladies, if they’re even a little bit torn, they’re not lasting long. I’m not saying you need to go out and purchase a whole new professional wardrobe in order to assert yourself in the workplace. But, taking a few extra minutes to show you care about your appearance and how you present yourself will not only gain you more respect from your colleagues, it will also encourage more respect in yourself.
2. Carry Yourself
Now that you look the part, it’s time to act the part. Don’t worry, I’m not going to recommend improv classes. But, my high school theatre director did teach me a thing or two about how to carry myself that I still use today. When you walk, sit, or stand, you should always try to keep your chin level with the floor. This automatically pulls your shoulders back, improving your posture, and will make you appear more attentive and confident than if you are constantly looking down. Also, when walking, leading with your chest will make you appear more assertive and in control than leading with your stomach or hips. Lastly, body language. If you are speaking with someone and want to be more assertive, don’t fidget, twiddle your thumbs, or change the position of your arms too much. Instead, cross your arms across your chest, or better yet, place them on your hips. But, be careful with what you say when crossing your arms so you don’t come across as aggressive.
3. Make Them See You
Personally, I think this step is the hardest. Some people just naturally fade into the background and prefer it that way. But, for those of you who would rather be in the limelight asserting yourself and your ideas, there’s hope. In order to make people see you, you have to want to be seen. No more picking the seat in the back corner of the room or the end of the conference table. Get right up in their business where all the action is happening. Make yourself part of the conversation. Go right up to them and shake their hand. But, when you shake their hand, don’t make it a quick little squeeze while you look at your wrist and wish it into being over. Take their hand firmly in yours, take your other hand and wrap it around both of your hands. Shake once, then look them in the eye — just for a friendly moment or two, but not too long. Now, you’re in control of the handshake, so who knows what else may be in your control?
4. Speak Up
So by now, you’re dressed crisp, proper, and professional. You stride into the office with your shoulders back, chin up, leading with your chest. You walk right up to the boss, take their hand in both of your own and firmly shake it with appropriate eye contact. Then you take a seat right next to the head of the table and go to open your mouth…but no words come out. It’s okay, speaking up is tough. Especially in an environment where there is a power dynamic like a boss and an employee. It’s intimidating, but it can be done both assertively and respectfully.
Don’t be afraid to share your ideas or thoughts, even if it goes against what someone else has already said before you. You are always entitled to your opinion, and discussion is the most important part of the collaboration process after all. Now, don’t speak up whenever just any thought comes to your head, but pick your moments. Think over an idea in your head before you blurt it out. If you think it over and it still sounds solid, then share it. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, because your mind, your thoughts — well, that’s why you’re paid to be there.
But, it’s not enough to simply just share, you must also be willing to defend your thoughts and ideas. If you present something and others don’t agree or don’t support it, you have to be prepared for that, and you need to be ready to defend the idea you present. Always think through the downsides, drawbacks, or potential negatives of what you share before you share it. This way, when someone does argue or disagree with you, you will already know how to respond and will look even more in control of the situation and the direction your idea will go.
C) Stick to your guns, but know when to back down
Even with your thought-out rebuttals, some people will just keep fighting you. In this case, it is important to know when to let it go and when to fight back. If you’re pitching an idea to your boss and they just don’t see the value in it, you should absolutely keep trying. But, there comes a point after so much trying where you and your idea begin to look desperate, and desperate is the farthest thing from assertive. Find the sweet spot between sticking to your guns, and knowing when to back down and let an idea go. Find that spot and live in it, but live assertively.
5. Fake it Until You Believe It
And if all else fails, there is one thing that will always save you and make you seem more assertive than you actually are — CONFIDENCE. Confidence is really the key factor in all these steps, and for good reason. It is difficult to assert yourself and your ideas without being confident in yourself and what you can contribute. Have confidence in yourself, and if you can’t — fake it! Pretend to have more confidence than anyone else in the room and they will eventually believe it. And once other people think you’re confident, it will be all that much easier for you to believe you have confidence in yourself.
Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.
Chad Q. Brown