That rattled feeling can manifest as backing down and acquiescing to other people’s opinions. Or it might show up as frustration or aggression – and we’ve all witnessed what happens when someone wields an opinion like a club to beat others into submission!
Acquiescence and aggression are on opposite ends of a behavioral spectrum. Neither of them works well, and neither of them feels very good, either – not to the person exhibiting the behavior nor to those on the receiving end.
Fortunately, there’s a midpoint on the scale: assertiveness.
Here are four steps you can take to become more assertive and less acquiescent or aggressive.
1. Know what you want.
Take a moment before a meeting or an important conversation to think about what you want the outcome to be. Writing it down – just a few notes to yourself – will help anchor that understanding. If you sometimes get rattled when asking for what you want, having those notes will help you stay focused and reduce your stress levels.
2. Ask questions.
When we’re faced with disagreement, it’s easy to fall into defensiveness. Then we may find ourselves fighting aggressively for our “rights,” or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – simply giving in and agreeing.
Before you react, ask why. Why does the other person think your idea won’t work? Why do they want something different from what you want?
Asking questions opens the door to possibility.
3. Assume there’s a solution to any problem or disagreement – and be curious about what it might be.
Getting stuck in our own opinions may feel self-righteous, but it’s probably not the most flexible position to take. What if there were other options? When we become curious about what else is possible, then ideas can flow and communication opens up.
4. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence.
“No” may not always feel like an option (and sometimes, of course, it isn’t).
But when “no” is the right answer, you don’t have to justify yourself and you don’t need to apologize. Both justification and apology weaken your position, and leave you open to being convinced that you really meant “yes.”
Assertiveness is being able to express yourself openly and honestly without denying the rights of others. It doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want, but at least you’ll know that you spoke your truth in a way that was clear, non-confrontational, and respectful to everyone involved – including yourself.
Recommended training resource: The Being Assertive video contrasts acquiescent and aggressive examples with assertive behavior patterns, demonstrating what can happen when a team commits to improving their communication styles.