Hey guys, up next we’re going to talk about seven ways you can be more assertive, so you can stop feeling like a pushover. Hey gents, I’m Kyle from The Distilled Man. This channel is all about providing actionable advice for the everyday gentleman. So learning how to be more assertive can massively improve your quality of life. I mean, we can all think of times when we know we should speak up but we don’t, or times when we feel like we’re being taken advantage of and we just accept it.
And rarely is it as blatant as being held up at gunpoint. Usually it’s more subtle, like a co-worker not pulling their own weight so more work lands on us, or a friend family member or neighbor not respecting our boundaries, or getting jerked around by a company when we’ve gotten bad service or a defective product, or maybe just feeling neglected or unappreciated in a romantic relationship. And later, we kick ourselves thinking “if only I would have said something.” A lot of times when we just hold it in, we don’t speak up about our needs and boundaries, and then that frustration just builds until we explode. Then it’s even worse because we’ve alienated people around us.
As psychologist Adam Galinsky describes in his TED talk “How to Speak up for Yourself,” a lot of people feel this double bind about expressing their needs and boundaries. There’s this sense that if you don’t speak up you’re screwed, and then if you do speak up you’re also screwed. So how do we avoid this? The key is learning how to communicate assertively. When you learn to be more assertive and you can advocate for yourself, other people respect you more. More importantly, you respect yourself. And no longer are you kicking yourself for not speaking up. And you maintain a healthier mindset because you’re not carrying around all this resentment all the time. By the way, there’s also a companion article on my website that goes into a bit more depth in this topic. But if you want to just jump right into the tactics here are seven ways that you can start being more assertive.
So, number one, get in touch with your own needs. So one of the biggest barriers to expressing your needs is not knowing what they are. A lot of people are trapped in this frustrating situation where they don’t know what their needs and boundaries are, but then things don’t go the way they want them to, they get upset with the situation, they claim that people are treating them badly, and then meanwhile the other people have no idea why their panties are in a bunch.
But it’s not really fair to other people if you can’t articulate your own needs. So pay close attention to yourself and evaluate: What are my triggers? What makes my blood pressure rise? What are my minimum requirements for physical comfort? What are my strong preferences, either positive or negative? What are my boundaries? What makes me feel “ick” or disrespected? These don’t have to be dramatic things either. I mean sometimes our biggest stressors are tiny annoyances that lurk just below the surface for years. Because I worked as a waiter throughout college and later in client services in advertising, bad service is a really big trigger for me. And I used to really let it get under my skin. But now that I’m aware that it’s a trigger, I deal with it in a much healthier way. So rather than letting a bad customer service experience ruin my day, I’m able to respond a little bit better. So either (A) I sort of catch myself thinking “okay, you know what, this person is probably just overwhelmed, they’re probably not meaning to be rude or disrespectful.” Or (B) I calmly provide constructive feedback to either that person or to their supervisor.
Another thing I finally discovered deep into adulthood is that during the holidays I’m much happier if I can limit family time to about three to four days max. So family time is great but being able to quickly get back and have some “me” time and have some time with my wife is critical for my sanity. Once you’ve taken the first step of identifying your needs, now you need to effectively communicate them to other people. Number two, be confident if your ask is reasonable. So one thing that really keeps people from communicating assertively is when they don’t think that their needs are valid. So assuming your ask is reasonable, be confident communicating it to other people. You shouldn’t feel guilty telling people what you need as long as it’s not something ridiculous or something that severely inconveniences other people. Let’s say your colleague has decided to blow off work on Friday for a last-minute ski trip. He sends you a hastily written email and asks if you can take care of two key tasks for him that day.
He’s covered for you before, so you don’t really feel right saying no. But you also feel like he’s crossed a line because he’s thrown this into your lap last minute. So you can reply “Hey Bill, Happy to help you out this time, but in the future I’d really appreciate it if you could give me 48 hours and notice, and that way I can make sure that I can handle the additional workload.” Since your request is reasonable, Bill can’t help but agree. And rather than silently be a martyr, you feel better because you stuck up for yourself. But more importantly, you set some ground rules for how you’re willing to help in the future. Number three, see the other person’s point of view. So even though a big part of being assertive is zeroing in on your needs, you’ll be much more effective communicating them if you can consider other people’s needs as well. Recognizing the needs and interests of the other person can give you leverage to get what you want. And of course this is an age-old negotiating technique: looking for ways to find “win-win” situations.
When you see the other person’s perspective, it may help you identify something that you can give them in exchange, or it may just help demonstrate that what you’re asking for is reasonable in the grand scheme of things. To do this, you need to cultivate a genuine empathy for the other person. Don’t assume they’re trying to screw you. You know they’re just being self-interested like you are. So going back to that example from the co-worker a moment ago, I think it helps to understand Bill’s motivations: “Look Bill, I know you want to ski as often as you can when the powder is good, and I’m happy to scratch your back (Lord knows you’ve helped me out). But the thing is, we’ve got to give each other more heads up on stuff like this, otherwise balls are gonna start to drop. And if you and I get fired, then neither of us is gonna be able to afford a ski weekend.” Number four, signal flexibility by providing options. So one thing that can happen when people lay down the law you know about their needs or boundaries, is that they can come across as overly rigid or unreasonable.
And of course that can backfire. So the key, according to Adam Galinsky, is to provide options. Rather than saying “this is how it has to be,” you appear more reasonable if you can offer up a couple different solutions for ways to solve the problem. And now the key of course is to make sure that the solutions you offer up are consistent with your needs and boundaries. Back in my advertising days I’d use this technique all the time to push back on clients. So, often a VP of Marketing would ask me “hey listen, do you think we can do this spread ad for $50,000 instead of $80,000?” Rather than just say no, I would say something like “I don’t think we can, you know, do a two-page spread for that budget, but you know, if cost is a concern we could consider maybe changing this to a single page ad which would, you know, reduce the budget.
Or we could also look at potentially limiting the number of revisions that your team gets, which wouldn’t get us to $50k, but at least would shave off a few dollars.” Without consciously realizing it, I was being assertive that our basic project rates weren’t negotiable. I mean, I couldn’t just give them a discount because they wanted to pay less. But rather than say that to them, because I offered up some other solutions for ways to potentially solve their issue, I was able to maintain our boundaries as a company while still keeping the client relationship intact. Number five, keep your delivery calm. So it may sound like a sort of “duh” recommendation, but keeping your cool is critical to assertive communication.
Because even if you’re making a legitimate or reasonable request, if you do it in an emotional or escalated way it’s gonna backfire on you. When you’re yelling at the top of your lungs and that vein in your forehead starts pulsating, you no longer seem reasonable. You seem aggressive, and the other person is gonna just shut down or become aggressive right back. And when that happens, guess what? They’re gonna be a lot less likely to accommodate you or even meet you halfway. It’s just human nature. So work on maintaining that friendly volume, work on slowing down your speech, and maintaining that calm tone of voice. Number six, make yourself the scapegoat. So when you’re communicating assertively, sometimes you’re forced to confront other people’s behaviors. But the thing is, people are sensitive and they don’t like being called out.
So in that situation, it’s good to soften the delivery with the right language. First, avoid making any broad-sweeping generalizations like “you always bla bla bla” or “you never pull your own weight.” And secondly, try to focus your observations of the situation and your argument on you rather than on them. So it’s much less accusatory if you could say things like “I feel” or “in my experience” or “my view is.” Ultimately, being assertive is all about you anyway. According to The Assertiveness Workbook, being assertive means making your own decisions about what you will and will not do and accepting the consequences and responsibility for your behavior.” And this can be an advantage if you’re asked to justify your needs or boundaries, if someone asks you why, just make yourself the scapegoat.
You can explain your needs as matter-of-factly as though they were, you know, fundamental requirements that can’t be violated. Because in your case, maybe they are fundamental for your sanity. In the book, How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, Patti Brightman and Connie Hatch actually go a step further, saying that you should use the phrase “I have a policy….” This approach can be extremely helpful when you’re feeling pressured to do something or make a decision on the spot. So you could say something like “I’m sorry, but I have a policy that I can’t buy anything from door to door salesman.” or “Gosh, you know what, I’d love to help you guys out but I have a policy that I can’t do same same-day business travel without an overnight hotel stay. Gotta get my beauty rest!” It’s almost comical, but talking about your own fundamental needs and policies as though they’ve been, you know, dictated by some higher authority makes people less likely to question them.
Because you respect your boundaries, other people respect them too. Number seven, use the broken record technique. Now, this approach can be really really useful when you’re dealing with a company or customer service and you’re not getting what you want. And it’s basically what it sounds like: continuing to repeat your request over and over again very very calmly. Calmly being the operative word. Let’s say you’re picking up your clothes from the dry cleaner and one of your shirts mysteriously ends up ripped.
And at first the staff is defensive, saying oh the fabric was old and, you know, they shouldn’t have to compensate you. Rather than reacting to this initial roadblock and hurling expletives at them, you continue to make a specific request. You say something like “well, I’d appreciate it if you could give me a discount on the cleaning.” or “well, I really think you should still deduct 15 dollars from the bill.” You continue to repeat variations on that specific request, and if possible you can add in new information each time you repeat it to help sort of buttress your argument. So for example you could say something like “again, I’ve been a loyal customer for many years so I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a discount just as a gesture of goodwill.” So the other important thing is to make sure that your request is specific enough and that it’s actually a request, not just a comment.
So the broken record technique would work a lot worse in this situation with the dry cleaner if you were just repeating the phrase “yeah, well you guys really messed up my shirt” or “yeah, well I really think you guys screwed me over here!” There’s not a specific ask there so it’s not gonna be as effective. Sidenote: in the past, I’ve actually used the broken record technique to ask for and receive substantial raises back when I worked in advertising.
Again, if you maintain that calm persistence and keep repeating that specific ask, this approach can be really really successful. So that’s it, gentlemen: seven ways you can start communicating more assertively. And again, if you want more information, you can check out the article on my website that has a bit more information about assertive communication. Let me know what you guys thought of this video in the comments.
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