Being Assertive When You Find It Difficult: 3 Ways To Get Started

by Ben Richardson
6th September 2019    3 Minutes
Image Of No Written On A Wall

Being assertive means being confident and self-assured while being respectful of others.

It is a great trait. It means that you are direct when communicating your wants and needs. Voicing your thoughts and opinions without being aggressive or overbearing will make sure that you are heard and still be viewed as a team player.

If you find that you struggle with being assertive below we’ve laid out three ‘starter’ behaviours to get you started.

As with many things in life, once you get started and see the benefits you’ll probably find that being assertive becomes increasingly easy and natural. It’s getting started that is the most difficult bit.

Why assertiveness matters

Assertiveness is a trait of confident people.

Assertive people believe that their needs and wants are just as important (no more or less) as those of other people. They are happy to speak about their and other people’s wants in a relaxed fashion without seeing it as a threat or a big issue. To them, it is simply an ordinary conversation.

Being assertive is a big advantage in the workplace. Assertive people are viewed as easy to work with, and for, as good communicators and as competent.

People like them because of the clarity and openness that comes from speaking with them. They feel that they know where they stand.

They also feel that assertive people are very competent as they are confident about stating what they need.

Given all of the advantages lets take a look at 3 ways to get started by looking at 3 ways of saying no to a request.

3 Ways To Say No

‘No’ is a powerful and direct word.

Often people that are shy or passive find it difficult to say ‘No’ to a request and end up feeling put upon and stressed as they reluctantly take on another task.

If you find the thought of saying ‘No’ to someone think about other less direct ways to communicate the same thing.

Ultimately hopefully you’ll have the confidence to start saying ‘No’ but don’t try to run before you can walk.

1. “Let me think about it and come back to you.”

This strategy is really about winning you time. By saying this you allow yourself time to think about things and respond at a time and in a way of your choosing.

If your default in the moment is to feel nervous and say ‘Yes’ this is a great one. You’re not saying ‘No’ all you are doing is winning yourself the time to reflect calmly.

If you decide that you’d like to say ‘No’ you can then plan how you will do that.

2. “It sounds like a great idea I’d love to but I won’t be able to start it until ….”

This answer avoids being a direct ‘No’ but in effect is one.

By saying that their request will have to wait until you have cleared your other projects you’re protecting your time and priorities.

If the person is happy to wait then that’s great it takes the pressure off you. If they aren’t happy to wait then they will find someone else.

Either outcome is a good outcome and you haven’t had to say ‘No’ only that they will need to wait.

3. “That sounds great I could help you out with …..”

This is another way of avoiding saying ‘No’.

If someone requests something that you can’t do then you can offer to help with the part of the task that you’re best suited to.

Obviously, by implication, you’re saying ‘No’ but you’re also responding helpfully. It means that you can cherry-pick the part of the task that you will be responsible for.

If they’re looking for someone to take on the whole task they’ll need to find someone to complete the task but that’s now not on your shoulders.

You’ll Be Viewed As MORE Competent

It is worth repeating that assertive people are actually viewed as more competent than passive people.

The great fear behind many people’s struggle to say ‘No’ is that they worry that people won’t like or respect them if they say ‘No’.

Ironically this lack of confidence leads to exactly what they fear, people viewing them less positively. People come away from someone saying a calm and respectful ‘No’ with a more positive view of the person denying the request.

Practice makes perfect

The above a just simple start on your road to becoming more assertive.

With practice, it will become much easier and more instinctive but while you are building the habit you should start small and build up.

Further reading:

HBR: People Who Seem Confident Are Viewed As More Compentent
High-Performance Lifestyle: How To Say No
Positive Psychology: The Quick Guide to Assertiveness: Become Direct, Firm and Positive
Manuel J. Smith: When I say no, I feel Guilty: How to Cope – using the Skills of Systematic Assertive Therapy
Claude Steiner: The Other Side of Power