Are you nice? Do you have a hard time being assertive?
You are not alone! One of the struggles nice people have is setting boundaries and standing up for themselves. Being assertive can feel un-nice.
Untrue! You can be nice AND assertive.
What is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.
According to research on assertiveness training by clinical psychologist and researcher Arnold Lazarus, there are four key components to being assertive:
1. Openly communicating desires and needs.
2. Saying no.
3. Openly communicating positive and negative feelings.
4. Developing contacts and beginning, maintaining, and ending conversations.
Being assertive isn’t about aggression. It is about caring for yourself and your needs and communicating effectively with others. Being assertive allows you to use your voice to advocate for yourself. And others!
Why Do I Struggle to Stand Up for Myself?
There are many reasons why you may struggle to stand up for yourself. Do these sound familiar?
- You hold back on who you are for fear of others rejecting you.
- You don’t want to come off as “too much.”
- You feel responsible for the happiness and well-being of everyone (but you).
- Past experiences taught you it’s safer to be a people pleaser.
- You worry about being perceived as aggressive.
- When you do stand up for yourself, you tend to explode.
- You don’t feel safe expressing your needs or beliefs.
- Anxiety makes standing up for yourself feel impossible.
- Your family dynamics discouraged or even punished you for standing up for yourself.
- You’ve been socially conditioned not to.
- You haven’t learned the skills of being assertive.
- You don’t value yourself.
If you identified with anything on the above list, those are good experiences and real concerns.
Don’t worry. You can learn to be assertive!
4 Tips to Stand Up for Yourself (With Sample Conversation Scripts)
How can you start to learn assertiveness? Start with these steps below.
#1 Dream Small
What does dreaming small have to do with standing up for yourself?
Honestly, it’s everything.
If you aren’t assertive, you’re holding back a big part of yourself. You have dreams, opinions, and desires that the world needs. Standing up for yourself positions you to share generously with others.
That’s why we want you to start small. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself dreaming big and expanding what you believe is possible for your life. Remove some pressure and start small because even small dreams are a big step.
The fear of success can be just as paralyzing as a failure. Mel Robbins, author, and motivational speaker, shares how to push through those fears.
Action Steps at Home:
- Write down five of your needs. Do you need your spouse to build you up instead of tearing you down publicly? Do you need to feel safe in your relationship with your family? Do you need to feel appreciated and seen in your job?
- As you identify your needs, it gives you clues on practicing being assertive. Communicating and then getting your needs met will rewire your brain to be assertive in a positive light.
- Next, write down three dreams. Don’t censor yourself, thinking it sounds unrealistic. Just put it down in glorious honesty. You may even struggle to write one dream! If that’s the case, start with a desire instead of a dream. Try each day again until you have at least three on your list.
- For now, don’t share these dreams. Keep them for yourself. Later, when you feel ready to share with others, pick someone who is a safe and trusted friend. Make sure you don’t share with Debbie Downer.
- Find a mentor or a coach who can help you move towards your goals. These mentors can be in-person or virtual (we recommend People School). Because that’s what those dreams are now! Beautiful goals that you can accomplish. As you expand your view of what is possible and let go of the fear of success, you will become more assertive.
Action Steps at Work:
Speak up. In your next meeting or conversation at work, look for an opening where you can share your thoughts professionally. An opening can be a pause in the conversation so that you can jump in on a topic that you feel confident about. Also, start practicing responses that prioritize yourself.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Scenario A: In meetings, Darren believed his ideas are… the only ideas. You regularly have other ideas, but you don’t share them.
Try This: In your next meeting, after Darren has shared, try saying, “Darren, that is a great idea. I can see how that would provide new opportunities for the company. I was also thinking (insert your brilliant idea and why it would work).”
If that scenario has you in a panic…
Start with low-stakes situations. You can get to Darren later.
You often listen quietly while your coworker, David, tells you about his daughter’s endless violin lessons and performances. You’ve never met his daughter, and you don’t really like a violin.
Next time, when he pauses for a breath, lean in and start talking! Affirm how amazing his daughter must be, and without pausing, segue into a topic you would like to talk about. You could transition to talking about a new hobby you’ve picked up, jokingly saying, “It’s not a violin, but X activity makes me feel like a kid again!….” You can also look for something you have in common with David, and if he returns to talking about violins, ask him outright what he enjoys doing to reroute him again. The key here is to move from listening to sharing your thoughts.
#2 Say Yes!
You thought we would tell you to say no, didn’t you? In a way, it’s the same thing. Saying no to others often means saying yes to yourself.
When you feel pressured to say yes to others, you say a big fat no to yourself. This can lead to resentment and feelings of frustration in the workplace or at home.
Instead of focusing on the dreaded “no,” let’s change the perspective and focus on the “yes.” Remember those four components of assertiveness? Number one on the list was communicating desires and needs. You accomplish this kind of self-advocacy by saying yes.
· You are worthy of receiving good.
· It’s okay to accept from others; this includes accepting help.
· Saying yes to your needs does not make you rude.
Every day your favorite colleague expects you to eat lunch together. You like eating lunch with her, but sometimes you want an hour to be quiet, process your day, and maybe even get in some reading. Regardless, you always say no to your own needs and desires.
Tomorrow, plan to say yes to yourself! When she comes by your desk at lunch, try saying, “You know I love eating lunch with you, but I have some things I need to work on over lunch today. Let’s plan to have lunch tomorrow, instead!” If she presses you or asks if something is wrong, try saying, “I’m really okay; it’s not about you at all! I just need some time alone today. I promise we’ll have lunch tomorrow.”
And, since you’re very nice, add a big genuine smile.
Your son and his family go on vacation regularly, and they expect you to house-sit and take care of the pets. Lately, they don’t even give you advanced warning. You don’t mind watching the pets sometimes, but you feel they should ask you instead of assuming you’ll do it. You also feel excluded because no one invited you to go along.
Son: “Oh, by the way, Mom, we’re all heading up to Vermont for the weekend. We’ll leave the keys in the regular place for you. I forgot to pick up dog food, but there should be enough for one day.”
You: “I didn’t realize you were going on vacation again! It sounds like a fun trip. I’ll do it this weekend, but next time I need to know in advance.”
Son: “But you always take care of the animals and watch the house.”
You: “I know, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me instead of telling me. I’ve been planning for a month to take a day trip with my friend, and now I will have to cancel.”
Next time… he still doesn’t ask, and he only lets you know a week in advance. It’s time to be assertive and either set boundaries or share your emotions. Don’t assume he knows how you feel. He probably has no idea how hurtful his actions are.
(Set a boundary) “I’m sorry, you’ll have to board the animals this time because I made plans for the weekend, and I can’t cancel them.”
(Or share your emotions and set a boundary next time) “Thank you for letting me know a bit earlier, but I’m sure you didn’t just plan this. It would be better to let me know when you start planning, and then I can let you know if that works for me. It’s hurtful to plan vacations with your family and expect me to stay behind. It makes me feel more like your maid than your Mom.”
If others are taking advantage of you and not respecting your boundaries, they may react negatively at first. Don’t accept their disapproval or annoyance as a sign that you’re mistaken or rude. It’s just an indication their behavior is unhealthy.
Don’t give up.
#3 Interrupt… Politely
Some people just never stop talking. Because you’re nice, you’ll also never get a word in.
As rude as it may feel, there are ways to interrupt politely. Let’s call it interjecting. To do this politely, try not to interrupt someone in the middle of their sentence. Be attentive, and the moment they pause or take a breath, jump in. It’s also essential to respond to what they were just saying before changing topics or ending the conversation.
We don’t recommend developing a habit of interrupting people, but here are some situations where not interrupting allows them to steamroll you.
You desperately want to get away from a person who keeps talking, but you don’t know how to end the conversation and can’t get a word in even if you did.
If they don’t get your conversation ending signals (pointing your feet away, moving physically away, looking at your watch), interrupt and say, “(insert appropriate one or two sentence response to what they were just saying). I’ve enjoyed talking with you, but I have to run. Let’s continue this conversation later. Bye!”
Your mother-in-law combines endless talking with passive-aggressive barbs. She criticizes your casserole, your choice of curtains, your current hairstyle, your new favorite shirt… all in a running cascade that never gives you a chance to respond. It’s time to interrupt, but be genuinely nice as you assertively express your needs.
MIL: Oh honey, you look so tired today. Are you getting enough sleep? You know I always make sure to take melatonin every night, and I’ve been using the most amazing skincare products. It does absolute wonders. I recommended it to your Aunt Karen, and she is looking so much better! You know, maybe you aren’t tired at all. It could just be that color you’re wearing. You know not everyone can wear yellow. It’s just not a color…
You: Oh, I know! I just love yellow, but you’re right, not everyone can wear it. I’m such glad yellow compliments my skin tone. I have been feeling exhausted lately. Do you think you could watch the kids for us this weekend? It would be such a relief to have a date night with Dave.
#4 Take a Detour to No
In settings that feel the most uncomfortable or tend to be high stakes, try redirecting instead of giving a flat no. Turning offers an alternative solution so that you accomplish a win-win. It also helps to avoid confrontation or sounding rude.
Your Dad has been upset with you for the last few weeks and suddenly, out of the blue, tells you he’s taking you fishing over the weekend. You want to go because you know it’s an olive branch, but you already have plans. You can’t cancel your plans without jeopardizing your already rocky relationship with your girlfriend. You’ve been in this position before where your Dad expects you to drop everything for him, and you usually do.
Try saying, “I’d love to go with you, but I have plans I can’t cancel. I checked the weather, and it’s perfect for fishing next weekend. How about we go next weekend instead?”
Your boss frequently asks you to take on extra tasks that your coworker should complete, Lynn. You usually smile and nod, even though you have a heavy workload.
Try saying, “I have quite a few projects, and I’m already working overtime. Did you know Lynn is much more knowledgeable on this subject than I am?”
8 Bonus Tips to Help You Be Assertive:
1. Lift yourself but don’t cut others down.
2. Place yourself in situations where you can practice being assertive.
3. Start by practicing in private. When you’re alone, say the word “no!”. Explore to find a tone of voice that is strong without being forceful.
4. Change your thinking. Instead of viewing yourself as too nice, weak, or a pushover, consider yourself as assertive, confident, and strong.
5. Look for people who can help you become the best version of yourself. Toxic relationships crush assertiveness and hold you back,
6. Don’t feel obligated to explain. Try saying “no” without adding information the other person doesn’t need to know.
7. Ask your therapist to model assertive behavior.
8. Work on your body language. Learn nonverbal communication to boost your confidence.
Unlock the secrets of charisma
Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending—from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone—to improve your personal and professional relationships.
Bonus Resource for Men
Prone to being too aggressive or struggle with speaking up? This guide on being an alpha male will help you be assertive without aggression.
Bonus Resource for Women
Curious about what the characteristics of an alpha female are? Learn more about how to spot an alpha female and take our quiz to see if you’re an alpha.
If you struggle to stand up for yourself, it’s likely because you don’t know what you need, and you don’t value your needs. Many contributing factors make it hard to be assertive, including social conditioning, family dynamics, past trauma, anxiety, fear of rejection, and people-pleasing.
You can get better at standing up for yourself by doing assertiveness training. As you begin to value yourself and your needs, you will gain the skills to be assertive.
It is not wrong to stick up for yourself. When you do, you demonstrate respect for yourself and the people around you by not accepting toxic behavior. People also respect you more when you stand up for yourself.
Assertiveness training is a therapy that dates back to 1949. While assertiveness training turned into a multimodal approach, experts used it to treat anxiety, depression, and severe mental illness. Modified assertiveness training has been used in Japan to increase assertiveness in nurses.
Key Takeaways to be Assertive
- Discover what your needs and desires are.
- Expand your vision and let go of your fear of success.
- Start small with low-stakes situations.
- Practice with people you trust, then expand to other situations.
- Practice saying the word “no” in the privacy of your home.
- Practice saying yes to your own needs.
- Interrupt when it’s appropriate.
- Work through past experiences that are holding you back.
- Expect to face opposition. Any time you work to improve yourself, others find that unsettling. Don’t let this stop you from becoming assertive.
We’ve given you a lot of examples, and it may feel overwhelming. Be kind to yourself in this process of learning assertive skills.
Learning to be assertive takes time and effort, but it is well worth it. Practice these steps even when it’s painful or uncomfortable, and you will see changes in your life.
Being nice shouldn’t get in the way of being heard or having your needs met. Standing up for yourself will increase your self-worth and your ability to communicate with others. You can do this!
For further reading, check out 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You