What It Means to Be Assertive

I’m an assertive person. If you know me, feel free to comment on that point. Recently, a friend and colleague asked me to write about what it takes to be assertive. How does a person become assertive, or teach her kids how to be? Honestly, I thank my struggling single mother, who told me, “No one else will take care of you but you.” Born out of a view that it was my job to speak up for what I needed and what I believed in, here are the elements of being assertive as I see them.

Speak out.
Whether you are speaking against an injustice, or simply mustering the courage to say what your really think instead of trying to make everyone else comfortable, speaking out is an assertive move.

Why? Who says we have to do it this way? Is there an actual policy, or is this just traditionally how things have been done? Can you show me that in writing? Questions are the opposite of blind acceptance. They call upon those in charge to be accountable, to clarify, and to prove it. Question away.

Be an includer.
Insiders are always trying to push someone out. One brave way to assert yourself: Include someone. Bring in the new kid. Stand up for somebody who is different, needs an advocate, or someone who is “out” when you find yourself “in” with the crowd. 

Know your limits.
Assertiveness involves knowing as much about what you can’t do, what you don’t have to offer, or when you’re not willing, as it has to do with stepping forward and taking the lead. Maybe you have too much on your plate. Maybe you don’t want to be the one to stand up on the stage and speak. Sometimes you have to say, “I’m not the right person for this,” to be assertive.

Unapologetically you. 
Some of my proudest moments of watching my kids learn to be assertive have been times when someone says, “Why do you suck your thumb?” or “Why are you wearing those ratty clothes,” and the kids have said, “I like who I am. I don’t care what you think.” Being assertive means standing up for your right to be you, even when someone in the group pushes for conformity. Accept yourself when no one else does. 

A simple “no thanks.”
Whether it’s an invitation to dinner, a gift that makes you feel uncomfortable, or an affiliation you can’t abide, it always takes a little bit more courage to go against the grain and say, “No thanks.” Saying no can define what you’re willing to stand up for, what’s worth the controversy. 

Be unyielding.
Most of us prone to assertiveness have probably been accused of being a little stubborn from time to time. Is it really worth it to argue about the trashy Cosmo magazines a colleague brought in for the waiting room? It is to me. I don’t want to work in a place that fails to consider everyone. If you really believe in something, don’t give up your ground because it makes one guy uncomfortable. 

Bold thanks.
The most assertive move of all? Giving credit where credit is due. Thanking those who get it right, stand by your side, and treat you with the utmost respect. 

Posted on July 4, 2016 .