Being assertive can seem like a really frightening concept. Many of us, especially women, have been raised to think that speaking up on our own behalf is unacceptable; in the face of ill-treatment we default to putting up and shutting up. But this stands in the way on a social level and a professional one, and learning to be more assertive is very important indeed in terms of feeling fulfilled personally, professionally, and individually.
So how do you go about it?
The first step to take is to see if you are being more submissive because it is how you were raised, or the person you are – or if you have a condition such as social anxiety or an anxiety disorder of some sort keeping you from interacting with others in an assertive manner. The reason this is important is because you cannot force yourself to stop having an anxiety problem, and trying to just power through such issues is almost certain to lead to failure. This will, in many cases, lead to a further degradation of self-esteem that undermines assertiveness even more and makes it even harder to build a new way of dealing with the world. If you do have an anxiety problem (the best way to find out is by reading up on the signs and symptoms online and speaking to your doctor if you feel they might apply) then therapy (in the form of CBT, talk-therapy, or whatever method you feel may be applicable) is the first step. Medication can help you manage the symptoms while you work on determining and handling their root cause.
If, however, you are simply not an assertive person, take heart. You can change your behaviour, and while it will not change who you are, it can really help you ensure you are respected and treated as you deserve to be; you’ll be able to make yourself function better in society and help yourself deal with issues such as unfair treatment in the workplace. This may also help you in your personal life and can help restore poor self-esteem.
While it may seem that self-esteem is a prerequisite for assertiveness, this is a fallacy, and very often behaving in an assertive manner can provide you with the building blocks to begin the reconstruction (or, in some cases, first construction) of your self-esteem. It truly is a situation where ‘fake it till you make it’ is a valid technique and don’t underestimate its value.
Buying books on assertive behaviour, books on feminism (if you are a woman and feel this has led to your feeling undermined or of low self-esteem) and books on self-esteem can really help. It can be tough to read these books non-stop on your own time, but if you find it difficult to really immerse yourself in them, you can try keeping one in your kitchen or bathroom. You can then read them in brief, 5- or 10-minute increments, which allows you to absorb the information therein in realistic, short bursts.
Further, build on small events. If there are situations that happen to you regularly, which you want to respond to in a more assertive way, practice a response that will give you the credit you need and allow you to stand up for yourself in a non-aggressive, assertive manner. Remember that assertiveness and aggression are not the same, which is an especially important consideration in professional terms. Staying calm allows you to retain your good feeling about the situation, as well as allowing you to come across as a professional individual who brooks no disrespect.
Building a more assertive personality can seem like the impossible task. This is often the case because people choose to tackle it with one weapon at a time in their arsenal. By combining experience with knowledge and preparation, you can launch a three-pronged attack that is far more likely to succeed. Good luck!